[FORUM]Civil servants, not self promotersI have heard from a high-ranking Seoul city official that one of the most difficult tasks is changing the city's bus routes.
According to the official, since city workers and bus businesses have a cozy relationship, the results of related meetings are leaked to the bus companies. So officials in charge of metropolitan bus operations have been pressured and threatened by bus businesses.
After Lee Myung-bak became mayor, the city planned to change its transportation system, including the concept of a public bus company and the bidding system for bus line operation. But the close relationship between the bus companies and the public servants was a problem. The high-ranking official said, "The threat from metropolitan bus companies disappeared after the city transferred dozens of officials in charge of the bus routes."
The Korean Government Employees' Union polled 1,000 people last September; 88.6 percent of the respondents said the degree of corruption in civil service is severe. The survey reflected the nation's negative view of public servants.
Yim Young-chul, an attorney who was a judge and director of the Fair Trade Commission, recently wrote a book titled "From the Presi-dent's Nation to the People's Nation." The book criticizes public services, saying, "Public spirit and legality in this country have broken down. I doubt the Korean government has the quality and standards needed for a Nation State in the modern political concept. Even though it has a mammoth organization, its principles and governance are no better than a small shop."
He said the reason public servants are so busy is most of their work is dedicated to doing what they should not be doing: carrying out unnecessary orders from senior officials and spending their time in inefficient work procedures. If their time-consuming, unproductive work could be reduced, we could cut the number of public servants by half and double the pay of the remaining officials, he said.
Referring to another book, titled "Public Servant Is but a Servant," written by a former legislator, Kim Jung-kil, who was the first minister of government administration and home affairs in Kim Dae-jung's administration, we can see how difficult public sector restructuring is. Mr. Kim deplores that "Korean officials have forgotten whom to serve. Their eyes always turn upward and they are reluctant to cast an eye downward. All problems in public service, such as corruption, self-protection, dereliction of duty and negligence, originate from their attitude of maximizing their own interests rather than the interest of their lord people."
He writes, "I was surprised by our officials' swiftness and sense of duty. I got a phone call from the Blue House that I was chosen to be minister of administration, and just 15 minutes later senior officials at the ministry visited me with a draft of an inauguration speech, new name cards and a minister's car. I wondered why they cannot serve the people as swiftly and sincerely as they served me."
Public sector reform during the Kim Dae-jung administration was not satisfactory, so there has been controversy over government reorganization.
People expect a public employees' union to increase transparency and the morality of public workers. People want the union to revitalize public service and get rid of inefficiency and corruption in government. If the union is free of crippling self-interest and plays a key role in public sector reform, people will back it.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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