[SPEAK OUT]Bureaucracy a joke, and it's on us

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[SPEAK OUT]Bureaucracy a joke, and it's on us

Thanks to friends who send me jokes, I get a dose of endorphins for a chipper start each morning when I check my e-mail. The messages are titled "joke" or "humor" or have wacky headings.

The other day, I received one from a friend who works at the Ministry of X, titled "for your amusement." Expecting a joke, I opened it up to find an attachment titled "Re: Reports to the Minister." It was addressed to each division of all departments, sent by the minister's secretariat. I didn't see the jest of the e-mail message, until I read on.

The document was a guideline for government officials pre-paring reports for the minister's review. I heartily believe that guidelines, except in the realm of art, are necessary for order and direction; but they can be excessive and futile. With common sense, one can easily distinguish helpful guidelines from superfluous ones. Let me share some of the particulars of this message.

The directive was divided into three sections: documented/in-person report, miscellaneous event report and report on events where the minister does not participate.

Documented reports are to be numbered, and the sentences shall each be longer than two lines, typed in 16-point size. The introduction section is to be boxed, with major points summarized within three to four lines. The entire document shall be one to two pages long, and in case the contents exceed two pages, a one- or two-page summary shall be included with the original.

The miscellaneous event report is more systematic. A table divides events into conferences, lectures and congratulatory addresses/words of encouragement. Lectures or addresses are to be reported two (not one or three) days in advance in written form only -- unlike conferences, which must be reported in person one or two days before the event. The number of pages for the outline and the main contents are specified, and the table lists the items to be included and discussed.

As for public addresses, reports are directed to be in descriptive form -- as if without a guideline they might be drafted in sentence fragments or outline format. Did I forget to mention that this must be in bold-faced 28-point type? (That's about the size of the headline on this article.)

I wonder, do these officials take offense at having to follow such ridiculous instructions? The folks who work at the ministry are not only brilliant but also highly educated. Many receive grants to study abroad; some hold professional degrees. Others have unparalleled expert knowledge in their specialties. All have passed national exams that test them on constitutional law, Korean history, English, administrative law, economics, finance, civil law, psychology and criminal law. These exams are notoriously difficult and extremely competitive, passed by only one out of 70 or 80. Parents take pride in having children who work at ministries, which are known to hire only the elite. Many Koreans consider it an honor and privilege to work for the government. Most of these officials work overtime more often than not. Should they be spending time on such trivial matters, when our country's prosperity in part lies in the decisions they make? Surely, the minister won't care whether the documents have two- or three-centimeter margins or if they are double- or single-spaced. I doubt that the report will be rejected for being in 25-point type instead of 28. What should be stressed is the content and substance of the work, not the formalities. I wonder why there still is a reluctance to break such an inefficient tradition. Indifference? Apprehen-sion? Indolence? Who knows?

It is widely known that Chairman L of one of Korea's major conglomerates has criticized such unproductive and pointless formalities. It is said that he instructed his employees not to worry about typos, spelling or minute and irrelevant details, and indicated that he would ac-cept manually corrected reports, even with notes between the lines scribbled in longhand, as long as the quality is acceptable.

It is important to accommodate conventional practices, as long as they have some value. But when patterns are recognized as undesirable, failing to correct or supplement them is no different from neglecting a wound. Bureaucratic regulations that obstruct creativity must be abolished. Let's use precious time to work on something fruitful and productive, on triggering the imagination so that it can give birth to innovative ideas, rather than have our public servants waste time and paper correcting measly specks on documents. One revolutionary person or group may not be able to change the nation, but if you see room for improvement in your radii of action, that would be the ideal place for you to take the initiative.


The writer is working for CDP Capital Real Estate as a market researcher.

by Jeon Hyun-jung

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