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Government Organizations Vie For Survival

Posted December. 20, 2008 01:56,   


As governmental organizations go through restructuring and staff reduction, voiceless wars are also underway among bureaucrats.

Ever since the presidential transition committee called for the slimming down of government offices, ministries and organizations to be merged are tussling with one another to minimize the scope of reduction.

Because of the wrangling for survival, most ministries and agencies, except for the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), and the Labor Ministry, failed to meet the Jan. 29 deadline for the submission of their own reform plan.

Some seem to intentionally delay the submission to wait and see, after outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun hinted at vetoing the government reorganization bill.

○ To be or not to be

For the ministries to be merged together, the negotiation to come up with one reorganization plan is the matter of “to be or not to be.” Loosing control of the negotiation means more reduction in staff and functions.

Though the Finance and Economy Ministry and the Planning and Budget Ministry, which will be consolidated to be the Planning and Finance Ministry, have held meetings several times, they failed to narrow differences. Their meetings, rather, turned into emotional skirmishes.

“The Planning and Budget Ministry, which was no bigger than a department in the former Finance Ministry, bloated its size under the current government, and now insists on a consolidation on an equal basis,” said an official of the Finance Ministry. “It’s doubtful we can present a unified proposal.”

“According to the reform plan presented by the transition committee, the Budget Ministry is to absorb the Finance Ministry” retorted the Budget Ministry. “That means the scattering of the Finance Ministry’s functions.”

The Finance Ministry is also at odds with the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) over the plan of “one percent reduction in staff for every 50 regulations.” The Finance Ministry argues that financial policy- related regulations should be counted as the FSC’s regulations because they will be taken care of by the FSC under the new government, so the staff reduction plan should take the fact into consideration. However, the FSC dismissed this argument as unreasonable.

The Construction and Transportation Ministry, which is set to be reborn as the Homeland and Maritime Affairs Ministry by absorbing some functions of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, such as ocean development and marine transportation and logistics, should cut back on the number of officials to 5,600 to 5,700 from the combined 6,200 (the Construction Ministry with 4,100 and the Maritime Ministry with 2,100). “The Maritime Ministry asks to retain all the staff. It’s absurd,” resented an official of the Construction Ministry.

○ Negotiation is out of the question

In the meantime, the Unification Ministry and the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry are pinning their hope on the political circle anticipating the abortion of the consolidation plan. While the Foreign Ministry said it would “submit a reorganization plan in one way or another,” the Unification Ministry raised concerns by saying that “the deadline will be missed.”

The Agriculture and Forestry Ministry, which will be expanded to be the Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry by absorbing the Maritime Ministry’s policy-making functions on fishery, couldn’t bring out the subject of the staff reduction. “Because high-ranking officials in the Maritime Ministry, including the minister and the vice-minister, are seeking to reverse the reorganization plan, we have no official channel to negotiate the matter with the Maritime Ministry,” muttered an official in the Agriculture Ministry.

An official at the Culture and Tourism Ministry to absorb the Information and Communication Ministry’s digital content function and the Government Information Agency’s overseas promotion function said, “We couldn’t draw up the overall plan for the reshuffle because we failed to reach an agreement on the staff reduction in both the Information and Communication Ministry and the Government Information Agency.”

The Prime Minister’s Office, which should curtail the number of officials from current 622 to 300, said they are formulating its own reduction plan, but complained it’s unlikely to meet the target suggested by the transition committee.

In the meanwhile, the Education and Human Resources Development Ministry, which will take over some functions from the Science and Technology Ministry, is at a loss as the Science Ministry holds on to functions that should be relegated the Commerce, Industry and Energy Ministry and the Planning and Budget Ministry.

○ Possible Vacuum in State Affairs

As the government reorganization plan hit the snag, public officials cannot afford to take up the pressing issues. “Nobody is enthusiastic about dealing with pending issues because their job security is not certain,” said one civil servant in an economy-related ministry.

Many raise voices over the possible “vacuum of state affairs” where a slew of pressing issues, including drawing up measures against the meltdown of the US sub-prime mortgage market and analyzing the influence of U.S. interest rate cut on the nation and ratifying the KORUS FTA, remain unresolved.

“We stopped drawing up mid and long-term plans and only deal with basic tasks,” said a staff in the financial authorities, “Staff meetings formulating major policies were halted a long time ago.”

“Rather than taking on the task of reorganization, officials are studying other ministries’ moves,” said an official of a ministry, who is in charge of staff reduction, “Quite a few number of bureaucrats think the government won’t function well around the time of the new president`s inauguration.”