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[Editorial] Mass Resignations of High-ranking Officials

Posted December. 17, 2008 08:36,   


Seven grade 1 officials at the Education, Science and Technology Ministry have tendered their resignations. Three grade 1 officials at the National Tax Service have done the same. All of them are key civil servants who play crucial roles in policies on education, science and technology as well as tax administration. The mass resignations by the officials will likely provoke a major backlash as the first of their kind following the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

At the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, suspicion is rising that Education Minister Ahn Byong-man used the senior officials as scapegoats under the pretext of a reshuffle after receiving the lowest grade in a ministerial assessment of the government. Most pundits say, however, that the ministry failed to implement the administration’s educational policy, including allowing more autonomy at public high schools, the establishment of international middle schools, and the correction of left-leaning history textbooks. One of the reasons cited for the problems was the bureaucracy of senior officials who took office under the progressive Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.

President Lee said, “My intention is not being efficiently communicated to government officials.” Ruling Grand National Party floor leader Hong Joon-pyo also said, “Officials of grade 1 or higher are not taking action though the administration has been replaced.” This situation is effectively tantamount to a crisis in state administration. The reality, however, is that the Education Ministry is not the only government agency suffering from paralysis. Grade 1 officials are politically appointed and whose fates depend on that of the administration. This is why the implications of the mass resignations of senior ministry officials deserve closer scrutiny.

Considering the local elections in 2010, it is fair to say the incumbent government has only one more year in which it can push ahead with its policy agenda. Most people believe that the economic crisis will take a turn for the worst next year. Korea must not only dedicate all national energy and resources to overcoming the crisis, but also lay the foundation for the advancement of the nation. This is an impossible task without the commitment and leadership of senior officials. This is not an issue limited only to grade 1 officials. Ministers and vice ministers must also reflect on their own sense of crisis and spirit of sacrifice, and ask themselves whether they have no problems on their part. A high-ranking ruling party official even told the president, “In the parliamentary inspection of the government, I was concerned about all top government officials except a couple of ministers,” which attests to the seriousness of the situation. Unless ministers and vice ministers take the lead, replacing grade 1 officials will prove meaningless.