[VIEWPOINT ] Incomplete Study of Bias in Civil Service

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[VIEWPOINT ] Incomplete Study of Bias in Civil Service

Amid rising controversy over the government's biased personnel policy of giving preferences to those from certain regions and schools, the government?or the first time in the history of the nation's constitutional rule?ecided to open Pandora's Box by announcing the results of an inquiry into its personnel practices.

The announcement March 16 by the Civil Service Commission, a presidential advisory body for personnel management, can be viewed as a courageous and wise measure that showed a firm determination to candidly disclose the facts and to eliminate a chronic ill that has afflicted the nation's bureaucracy. The action signaled a departure from the practices of past administrations, which covered up their regionally discriminatory personnel policies or tried to evade confrontation.

But a close scrutiny of the data reveals that they are wanting in some aspects. First of all, they confirmed that government employees from the Cholla provinces, President Kim Dae-jung's home region, occupy 25-27 percent of the 120 coveted government agency positions considered "influential," a sharp rise from the previous 10-15 percent level. In contrast, the ratio of civil servants from the Kyongsang provinces appointed to influential positions fell from 44 percent to 38 percent, and those appointed to the positions relating to the administration of state affairs plummeted from 40 percent to 25 percent. According to the commission's explanation, the changes signify that for the first time in history the ratio of regional representation in government positions has achieved a balance with the regional ratios in the national population. Based on this perspective, the recent findings could be viewed as a hopeful message signaling the beginning of the so-called "representation bureaucratic system" in Korea.

There is a problem, however. The speed and intensity of the changes are too rapid and too great, arousing hostility in those from regions other than Cholla. This is why the recent inquiry led to the criticism that the findings only proved that the current administration is no different from any of the past ones in doling out influential positions to those hailing from the president's home region. Some also question whether the government might have conducted the investigation and announced the results merely to justify its unfair personnel practices. It might also have wanted to squash the sharpening criticism of its replacement of many civil servants in powerful posts with others from Cholla.

The government is deluding itself if it thinks the public will be pacified by the explanation that the number of Cholla natives in influential positions only reflects the region's ratio in the national population. The antagonism of those people not from Cholla?he absolute majority혈s an undeniable fact. Animosity and jealousy will continue to mount if the government believes that the number of Cholla natives in government positions should be proportional to its population ratio, and that those from other regions should surrender their positions to those from Cholla because of past discrimination against Cholla.

If we are to introduce a genuine representative bureaucracy and the quintessence of regional harmony, non-natives of the president's home region should be appointed to key government positions, no matter which province the president was raised in. This is why the Civil Service Commission should have included preferential measures for the employees from regions other than President Kim's home in the measures it presented for future personnel management. It also goes without saying that the government has to take care to prevent reverse discrimination against talented people through excessive consideration for attaining a fair regional distribution.

Second, the commission failed to mention a single word about regional discrimination in appointing the heads and employees of organizations affiliated with the government and political organs, such as the presidential Blue House and the National Intelligence Agency. Neither did it address the problems accruing from the practice of ministers filling cushy jobs at their ministries with natives of their home regions. There are many ways of telling a lie. Giving only partial facts, whether intentionally or not, is an evasion of responsibility and no different from telling an outright lie. The commission should have outlined plans for further investigation into such problems. Only when it does so and announces the results will it be able to establish the traditions of maintaining independence from political power despite its being under the direct supervision of the president.

Finally, it is regrettable that the commission failed to make public all the data it collected. Credibility lies at the core of the announced results of an investigation conducted to verify facts. The minimal condition necessary for securing credibility is the disclosure of the raw data to allow verification by a third party. Regularly conducting such investigations and making the data public are the requisites that should be included in future measures.

writer -----------------------------------------------------------------------

The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of International Area Studies, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

by Hwang Sung-don

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