The number of civil servants working for the central government is estimated to exceed 750,000 in 2022, the final year for President Moon Jae-in’s term, an increase of 120,000 in just five years compared to 631,380 at the start of the current administration. Accordingly, the central government staff salary costs for next year will surpass 40 trillion won for the first time.
In an effort to keep his campaign pledge to increase the number of government employees during his term by 174,000 people, President Moon has rapidly increased the number of public officials every year. Assuming that government employee recruitment plan is implemented as planned, the number of civil servants hired under this administration will increase by 2.2 times compared to the combined number of civil servants recruited under the former Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. This figure will be even bigger with the number of local government employees factored in. According to the Ministry of Personnel Management’s figures, the number of both central and local government staff will reach 1.2 million in total by 2022. The registered population in Korea began to decline since last year, while the number of civil servants who are paid by taxpayers’ money is rapidly expanding.
According to the National Assembly Budget Office, recruiting one Grade 9 public official will cost a total personnel cost of 1.73 billion won for 30 years going forward. With a surge in the number of government employees, the government personnel expenditure in the next year’s budget has increased by 23.7% since the first year of the current Moon administration. The fund for civil servant pension scheme has already dried up, and a few trillion won from every year’s budget has been injected to make up for the deficit. On top of this, the level of job satisfaction of government employees is poor if not worse. Arguing that sacrifice is forced on them only, government employees repulse the fiscal authority’s attempt to hold back the salary raise rate for government employees in 2021 and 2022 at a low level in response to a rapid surge in the total personnel costs owing to an increase in the number of civil servants.
AWhat’s worse, an increase in the number of government employees does not translate into work productivity. In fact, the government’s competitiveness is taking a step backwards. In the survey conducted by the Institute for Management Development (IMD) based in Switzerland of 64 countries, the Korean government’s efficiency, which ranked 28th in 2020, was degraded by six rankings. The oversized government organization seems to drag down the country’s competitiveness by instituting unnecessary regulations and meddling in private sector.
Once increased in number, government employees are difficult to be reduced down unless the national economy is bankrupt like the one southern European countries experienced in early 2010s. Rapid ageing population in Korea means that working-age population needs to pay more taxes to fill the gap in pension funds. Furthermore, the private sector bemoans the lack of competent workers as some 300,000 young adults are occupied with preparing for the government employee examination. The government and politicians must promptly get out of the mindset that increasing the number of government employees is an easy way to harvest votes from young people.