Published : 2013-01-09 20:20
Updated : 2013-01-09 20:20
Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak vowed to downsize the government to reduce regulation and enhance national competitiveness when he took office five years ago. Over the course of his presidency, however, the number of state public officials rose by 10,773 to 615,487, according to figures from the Ministry of Public Administration and Security. Counting employees at local administrations, the number of civil servants saw an increase of 25,600 to 988,755.
The surge in public service manpower was due partly to recruiting thousands more police officers to deal with violent crimes and replace those conscripted to serve their mandatory military duty in the police. Still, the incumbent administration cannot go without being criticized for its insufficient efforts to achieve the smaller and more efficient government pledged by Lee at the start of his mandate in February 2008.
Lee set a goal to slim down the civil service by shedding 6,951 jobs, less than half of which have so far been eliminated. Excluding those hired to replace drafted policemen assigned to regular military service, the number of civil servants still recorded a net increase of 4,273 over the past five years. Under Lee’s presidency, the Public Administration Ministry, which is tasked with managing civil service personnel, has dispatched more of its officials to overseas missions, which critics say have little work to do.
The number of public employees is likely to exceed the 1 million mark this year under the incoming administration to be led by former ruling party leader Park Geun-hye, who was elected to succeed Lee in the Dec. 19 presidential vote. During her campaign, Park pledged to recruit more police officers, teachers and social welfare officials over years to come. The police force is especially set to be reinforced by 20,000 additional officers.
If inevitable, more civil servants may be hired. But a careful and thorough review should be made based on the long-term forecast for public service demand. New recruitments should be preceded by efforts to reduce the number of officials in the sectors whose service has become less necessary and, if possible, transfer them to other fields that need more manpower.
It is easy to add public employees but it is extremely difficult to scale down the civil service, as proved by the outgoing administration’s failure in carrying through its initial downsizing plan. An increase in the number of government officials leads to a rise in the fixed portion of fiscal spending and ― in most cases ― more regulations, hampering the vitality and efficiency of the private-sector economy. In their bids to woo support from officialdom, some populist politicians have said recruiting more public servants would help ease unemployment problems. But this argument can be misleading. It is more likely that the expanded civil service acts against private businesses adding more new jobs.
President-elect Park has put forward a policy agenda to pursue during her five-year term that starts on Feb. 25. Essential to carrying them out will be a competent government, which tries to save taxpayers’ money, come closer to the public and provide better service for them. A larger number of public employees doesn’t necessarily result in a more capable government.
Downsizing the state organizational chart is apparently not on the priority list of her administration. But it is urged to pay heed to placing a proper cap on the public service, which would better serve the interests of ordinary people, many of whom struggle with unstable and temporary work.
Continuous efforts need to be made to slim down the state and regional administrations by privatizing or incorporating relevant organizations. Retired government officials who want to get a job in the private sector should be subject to tighter screening so that they will not be hired by companies related to their former work. The long-standing practice of senior civil servants landing jobs at firms under the supervision of their agencies must be severed to eradicate their collusive links and enhance the transparency and efficiency of the business climate.