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[Editorial] Neglect of Duty by Public Officials

Posted November. 12, 2008 08:20,   


The government and the ruling party are increasingly disgruntled with public servants for disobeying orders and neglecting their duties. President Lee Myung-bak also reportedly expressed a grievance by saying, “I cannot get my messages through to public officials.” It’s disturbing to see public servants, whose duty is to serve the people, renege on their duties by citing conflicting ideologies with the incumbent government. Equally dismaying is to see the government and the ruling party complaining but doing nothing about the situation.

Media reports say that of the 200 bills the government and the ruling party agreed to pass in the regular parliamentary session, half of them have yet to be presented to the National Assembly due to delay tactics by ministries. Public officials are said to be deliberately ignoring bills that are expected to invite ideological controversy and resistance from interest groups. Worse, confidential data such as minutes of presidential office meetings and internal documents of the Korea Communications Commission are reportedly being leaked to opposition lawmakers. Facing this situation, Prime Minster Han Seung-soo has issued behavioral guidelines for public officials.

Public servants are supposed to do their utmost to enable smooth operation of the administration regardless of the ideological inclination of the government. This is the basic purpose of the professional civil servant system. The people choose the government and civil servants must materialize the ideology and philology of the government chosen by the people through policies and systems. Therefore, rejection or dereliction of this duty is gross misconduct that should not be tolerated.

More to blame are ministers and vice ministers who fail to control their subordinates. By mobilizing methods such as punishment, reward or persuasion, they should have kept a firm grip on public officials. If they are reluctant or unable to do so, they ought to leave their posts. Those serving ministers or vice ministers need a clear outlook on history and the times as well as opinions on what to do and what not to do. There seems to be too many opportunistic ministers and vice ministers who study the pleasures of both their bosses and subordinates to keep their posts longer.

Above all, the president is ultimately responsible for the government going awry. If those in high offices lack leadership and fail to control their ministries, this means the president has failed to appoint the right people. If so, a Cabinet reshuffle is inevitable. Whether the reshuffle is for the president or for ministers and vice ministers, the key to leadership is maintaining firm control over public servants.