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Stop interference with personnel management

Posted July. 03, 2014 06:55,   


The post of administrative budget review officer at the Strategy and Finance Ministry, who must coordinate budgets for local governments and the National Emergency Management Agency for recovery from the Sewol ferry disaster, has remained vacant since February. The position of regulatory coordination officer at the Government Policy Coordination Office under the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, who should take charge of practical matters in regulatory reform, a key agenda of the Park Geun-hye administration, has also remained vacant for more than five months. Of all the director-general level posts that play central roles in various ministries, 51 spots remained unoccupied, adding to burden on state administration. Timeline for "Economic policy orientation for the second half,” which the Strategy and Finance Ministry releases at end-June every year, has not been fixed, causing concern over whether the Korean economy that has been constantly losing ground will be able to find measures to shore up recovery.

There were few cases in the previous administrations wherein so many high-level government posts remained vacant for such a long period of time. The duration of personnel vacancies has been prolonged partly due to the sudden suspension of all different personnel appointments in the wake of the Sewol disaster in April. Afterwards a plan to implement personnel reform aimed at overhauling state administration was announced, but because appointment of ministers have been delayed due to consecutive withdrawals of prime minister nominees, the appointment of director-general level posts have also been put off in tandem. This situation has occurred in part because various ministries have effectively halted personnel management, after eradicating preferential appointment of ex-government officials to high-level positions at organizations under ministries became the buzzword. However, the fundamental cause of the problem is that the presidential office is even interfering with appointment of director-general level posts.

Former and incumbent ministers, heads of state-run organizations, and lawmakers of the ruling Saenuri Party say that the presidential office have been directly interfering with appointment of director-general level posts at various ministries since last year. The Science, ICT and Future Planning Ministry had to wait more than a month while trying to replace a director-general level official in the information and telecommunication technology field before getting approval from the presidential office. The Strategy and Finance Ministry also had to win consent from the presidential office to transfer director-general level officials. In many cases, it takes at least a month to receive approval from the presidential office, and often takes as many as two to three months. There have been testimonies that a ministry recommended three candidates but had to recommend extra because the first batch of candidates did not include contenders favored by the presidential office. There had been no precedence that the presidential office’s interfering with the appointment of director-general level posts, which are working-level positions, beyond the political posts of ministers and vice ministers.

If prolonged vacancy of certain posts does not cause any problem in administration, the government may remove such positions. If the presidential office “names officials as it pleases” based on their educational background or other relationships rather than merits, this constitutes monopoly of state administration. It is out of the question for a minister who is not even allowed to appoint his or her choices to director-general level posts to take full control of the ministry’s organization and bureaucrats and implement agendas in line with his or her belief. The system of responsible ministers was one of President Park’s election pledges. If the presidential office is fully occupied in reforming state administration, it should return the rights and responsibilities in personnel management to the ministers. The presidential office is advised to properly handle its own personnel management to select prime minister and ministers who meet the public’s expectations.