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The nomad government of the 21st century

Posted May. 02, 2013 07:17,   


Government officials are tired but have little time for work. They have to move back and forth from their house in Seoul – the Sejong Government Complex – Osong Station – Seoul Station – and Seoul offices for ministers and deputy ministers. These officials who have to move all the time spend four to five hours on the street to get approval from their minister or deputy minister. The Prime Minister, ministers, and deputy ministers cannot leave Seoul because they have to go to the National Assembly and the presidential office and attend various meetings including cabinet meetings and ministry events. They have a series of funerals to go. As their heads are mostly in Seoul, department or team heads often spend one day in Seoul and the other day in Sejong or stay in Sejong in the morning and in Seoul in the afternoon.

Like a seek-and-hide play, they have to find the whereabouts of their ministers, deputy ministers, department heads and team heads. Some policy agendas are losing speed because they cannot report and obtain approval smoothly both in time and place. The process is slowing down while they are moving faster. As the working-level officials are in Sejong and high-ranking officials are in Seoul, they seem like a milestone without a handle. It seems like a primitive nomad government in the 21st century.

They have many urgent things to address at home and abroad, policies have a long gestation period and some are infertile compounded by the non-productive National Assembly. A single job is as precious as life but the government is not easing regulations for the industries that could potentially create new jobs.

When a minister goes to the National Assembly, dozens of his subordinates including the deputy minister, department and team heads accompany him. The officials who stay at a boarding house in Sejong sleep at his house in Seoul and then go to the National Assembly on the next day. Those who moved from Seoul to Sejong have to go to the Assembly after getting on a bus at 7 a.m. When both the ruling and opposition parties confront, dozens of officials including a minister and a deputy minister wait for hours and go home without doing their job. If there is something to address at the Sejong office, the officials who have a house in Seoul do not go to the office. Even if they go there, they can find neither his boss nor his subordinate at work because it is too late.

The working-level officials who stay in Sejong pick up their bag and are ready to leave the office around 6 p.m. so as not to miss their shuttle bus to home. They could be less concentrated on work and the discipline can be loosened. Less and less officials are working overnight like before. Officials are angry and tired but the people will be the victim of the inefficient administration. It is a double whammy for taxpayers because officials have to commute a long distance of 150 kilometers and travel frequently and this deteriorates service quality and quantity and increases their tax burden.

It takes about 22 trillion won (19.92 billion dollars) for the basic construction of Sejong City, which is equivalent to that of the Four Major River Restoration Project. The opposition parties and even the Park Geun-hye administration take issue with the project but they should think about which is more inefficient. There are many more ways to go, if the administration aims at the country’s balanced development. The Board of Audit and Inspection should conduct an audit on the entire construction project of the administrative city to find out problems and come up with measures “for the people.” The side effects and the national burden from the Sejong government complex are the subjects of the audit.

The Prime Minister’s Office and each ministry are trying to use video conferences and paper reporting to reduce inefficiency. However, this cannot make the administrative work highly efficient. The government should find a fundamental solution to the era where the administration is scattered across four offices in Seoul, Gwacheon, Daejeon, and Sejong.

The president and the National Assembly who led the construction of Sejong City should take the initiative. We propose a video conferencing of cabinet meetings and the National Assembly’s question and answer sessions to the government and standing committees. As an IT powerhouse, Korea can do everything. If they sent many ministries to Sejong City, they have to allow ministers and deputy ministers to work in Sejong.

The former Kim Dae-Jung administration held a biweekly video conference for the last six months of its term. The president should overcome the temptation to direct ministers on her presence and she can simply make orders in Seoul and ministers can report in Sejong. People can read faces and expressions in video conferences. If a meeting is held in the National Assembly, lawmakers can ask questions in Yeouido and the Prime Minister and ministers can answer the questions in the Sejong office. If the Prime Minister chairs a cabinet meeting, he can sit in a video conferencing room in Sejong and meet the participants from Seoul office, Gwacheon office and the presidential office. The video conferencing system can be made with Korea’s technology. Of course, security should be seriously taken care of.

A video conferencing cabinet meeting and a video conferencing parliamentary standing committee can be a symbol. It is the responsibilities of those who created Sejong City today to seek justice and administrative reform, which could shed expenses for the management of the Sejong office. It is not right to leave the unproductive old practices of the legislative and administrative branch and talk about political reform and the people’s happiness given that the people granted them power and positions. It will never be late to talk about a creative economy after succeeding in producing a creative administration.