[OUTLOOK]Vote in the name of efficiencyIn Korean politics, the outgoing and incoming administrations restructure the entire government before or in the aftermath of a presidential election. This restructuring comes under slogans such as "administrative reforms" or "government renovation." While these changes are made supposedly to create a more efficient government that can serve the people better it is the undeniably sad truth that more often than not they turn out to be disappointments.
In countries with a long tradition of democracy the people are protesting rash administrative reforms that politicians carry out to try to divert public attention from the government's inefficiencies and mistakes. The recent talk about government restructuring falls under two arguments.
The first is that the government must be reformed to ensure a "market economy and democracy." The power of an imperial president must be checked and government intervention should be limited. The next is the argument that a synergy effect must be created by efficiently downsizing the government by abolishing and merging agencies. To meet the challenges of a changing global environment a new government structure is needed, this side claims.
This may all sound rational but it is not quite so simple. Acquiring a market economy and democracy is a functional problem of the government, not a question of structure. The attempts in Korea to create all kinds of committees to lessen government intervention in the market and to check the power of the authorities did not even reach half way to the goal of maintaining existing government agencies while refining their functions. The new committees in fact were stronger interventionists in the market and demanded more power in their ambitions to become the new authority, causing more social and economic confusion.
Numerous attempts have shown that abolishing and merging government agencies do not bring the promised efficiency and synergy. The government's employee policies provide that government workers cannot be laid off even if the agency they work for is abolished. In fact, a mammoth agency can be created from the merger of two or more agencies without any improvement in efficiency.
Changing government functions to follow change in the world environment is not something that should be accomplished through government restructuring. This is best accomplished by changing functions while maintaining the structure. Most of the countries experiencing the changes in the global environment that we are experiencing are adjusting better than we are even though their government structure is not altered as frequently as ours because they get big results out of small functional changes.
In the end we can see that restructuring the government is not the best means to the end, as some reformists claim. Moreover the government restructuring that was implemented in the past was based not on logic but on chaotic political processes and the egoism of government agencies. Drafts calling for government restructuring have without exception been distorted by the lobbying and pressure of each government agency and interest group they encountered while going through the National Assembly.
More urgent than government restructuring is a rational readjustment of government functions and responsibilities. Government agencies and bureaus have lost a clear concept of their functions and their sense of duty in the process of going through so many restructuring attempts. There is conflict among agencies in meeting the demands of their respective fields of responsibility, and the rash merger of agencies is causing further conflict among them due to the absence of clear vision. Without first solving these problems another attempt at restructuring would bring more chaos. More fighting for survival would break out among the agencies, causing a vacuum in the administration.
Certain economically and politically advanced countries have irrational government structures that we find hard to understand, but they nevertheless are productive through clever management. The new government should focus more on analyzing and restructuring individual functions of the government and opt for a calmer and more gradual development of administration functions instead of a rash government restructuring. The people are waiting for a government that really knows how to manage a country.
* The writer is a professor of public administration at ChungAng University.
by Cho Sung-han