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Korean Embassies Abroad Overstaffed

Posted May. 24, 2008 08:56,   


"The system lacks flexibility because (each ministry) is rather focused on securing or maintaining good positions rather than sending their officials to places where actual work is required,” said a government official who recently returned to Korea after working in embassies overseas.

More than 100 Korean government officials work in Washington, D.C. However, only 27 (excluding ambassadors) of them belong to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The remainder are senior government officials sent by each ministry as an attaché (27), military officers (16), National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents, and employees of the-then Ministry of Finance and Economy and the Ministry of Planning and Budget dispatched to international organizations.

A former U.S. State Department official even noted that Korean embassies are the only foreign missions where more attachés of ministries are found than official diplomats.

It has been three months since the Lee Myung-bak administration, which seeks a small government, trimmed down government ministries to 15. However, overseas embassies remain untouched from the government’s reform drive.

Attachés from a total of 22 government bodies, including the National Assembly and the Supreme Court, are currently working at the Korean embassy in Washington.

Every ministry has constantly lobbied and exerted pressure to send more of their high ranking officials to embassies in advanced countries since the early 1990s. The biggest increase was seen during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, rising from 206 to 265.

Of course, a considerable number of the government officials dispatched to overseas embassies have extensive expertise and play an important role in strengthening Korea’s diplomatic relations. Diplomatic experts say an indiscriminate reduction in the number of government officials should be avoided as there are still areas where even more government officials are required.

The Dong-A Ilbo recently asked six former attachés of foreign embassies and two former Foreign Ministry officials with experience in supervising the attachés, which areas require attachés the most.

Agriculture and forestry, industrial resources and law-related areas topped the list. They also expected activities related to labor, health, welfare, telecommunications, patents, and food safety matters would increase dramatically once free trade agreements with major trading countries are ratified.

However, they said that attachés of more than 10 ministries do not have enough work.

sechepa@donga.com triplets@donga.com