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[Opinion] Resident Officers Abroad

Posted May. 26, 2008 07:52,   


Korean embassies in Washington or Tokyo can be called “mini governments.” Resident officers dispatched from constitutional units and government ministries outnumber diplomats from the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry. Resident officers at the Korean Embassy in Washington are from 24 institutions. Some were dispatched from the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the National Intelligence Service. Others include officials from the Justice Ministry; Defense Ministry; Strategy and Finance Ministry; Culture, Sports and Tourism Ministry; Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry; Education, Science and Technology Ministry; and the National Police Agency. While the embassy has more than 100 government employees, formal diplomats number only 28, including the ambassador. This is opposite to the embassies of advanced countries, where the ratio of diplomats to resident officers is about two or three to one.

The closer the relationship between Korea and the country of residence, the more agents might be needed for collecting information and keeping contact. But it is a problem if resident officers are dispatched to solve congestion in a ministry’s workforce, livelihood of staff or compensation. The position of a resident officer is popular because it means less work and more advantages such as children going to school and learning foreign languages abroad. Since resident officers are treated equally as diplomats, their annual salaries often surpass 100 million won with living and housing costs included. They can spend day after day welcoming lawmakers or high-ranking officials at airports, accompanying the guests on tours and playing golf together. As a result, they can build connections and succeed in the world.

Resident officers hold diplomatic passports during their terms. They can also be dispatched on duty for their home government body. In any case, ministers who create many positions abroad are hailed as “men of ability” within their ministries. As a result, ministries are competing to increase the number of resident officers abroad, as the figure rose about 30 percent from 206 in 2003 to 265 last year. The Foreign Ministry, the Public Administration and Security Ministry, the National Police Agency, the National Tax Service, the Korea Intellectual Property Office, the Financial Supervisory Service and other government bodies have also either increased the number of positions abroad or are waiting for the opportunity.

President Lee Myung-bak, advocating “a small government,” is pushing reform of public corporations following the Constitution, but public offices abroad are far from reform. It is not that all resident officers abroad waste tax money doing nothing. While some even fail to realize what their duties are, others bleed from their noses working too hard. This is not a recent happening, but the position of a resident officer should no longer be misused as a leisure spot for employees above director level or a way to increase positions in ministries.