[FORUM]No signs of humility here yetOnce in office, any new government tends to begin by trying to reform the government and its officials. The Roh Moo-hyun government also launched the Commission on Government Innovation and Decentralization, headed by a minister-level official, Kim Byung-joon, a professor at Kookmin University and one of Mr. Roh’s core policy thinkers. President Roh himself has expressed at every opportunity his strong desire to “achieve the reform of officialdom at any cost.”
In the Kim Dae-jung administration, government reform was always seen as restructuring organizations and reducing the number of public officials. Under the slogan “small and strong government,” government bureaucrats were seen as the reform object.
But proclaiming “efficient government” instead of a small government and “a government which provides high-quality services,” the new administration has put its emphasis on functional restructuring and redistributing rather than reducing personnel.
Chairman Kim Byung-joon showed an attitude of embracing officials in a recent interview, saying, “I trust in public officials and each individual’s ability.” His logic is that reform should not be a temporary, imposed thing; the official community should reform itself and become the principal actor in social reform.
Some time ago, in a briefing at the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, President Roh suggested that it should “cut the work [officials are doing] by half.” He meant that officials should look for pressing issues that have been ignored in the press of routine business that does not really require their intensive oversight.
But this is not the only reason officials should change their way of handling work and their way of thinking. There are numerous things that officials should not do, such as following unnecessary orders from higher-ups, using inefficient work procedures and holding on to authority that should be devolved to their subordinates. Some even argue that the number of officials should be halved and their pay doubled.
But what we have here is an experiment to set the direction of the reform toward “big government” that increases the quantity and quality of services to people. Changing the system and culture of officialdom and expanding decentralization will not be easy.
A book titled “A Vision and Strategy for Government Reform” by Yoon Sung-shik, a professor at Korea University, has became famous in government circles since President Roh, in a workshop of ministers and Blue House senior secretaries, introduced it and recommended that they read it.
Many of Mr. Roh’s remarks and policies regarding government reform are in line with this book. A particularly conspicuous part deals with “humble government.”
Such a government is one that does not assume that it can do everything by itself without any errors, that serves its people as customers, that does not attempt to accomplish the desired results all alone and that never resorts to power to solve problems.
For the government to be humble, officials must be humble. Since public officials hold very powerful authority, the author argues, they should always perform their jobs as if they have sinned against the people.
What will the new administration be like? We should wait and see a little longer, but recent controversies lead us to doubt that it will succeed in becoming a humble government. The idea of limiting the coverage of news media, talking about a “war against false reports” and trying to allocate market share to the media are opposed to this concept.
Added to that is a climate in which a word from the president can stop national projects, the attitude that regards group resignations of high-level officials as a trifling matter, feeling humiliated and complaining about the failed attempt to name a handpicked figure as the president of a state-run broadcaster ― those things are far from the image of a humble government.
Worth recalling is Professor Yoon’s advice that to prevent the government reforms from failing, we must be on guard against people who follow the wrong faith, people who act like enchanted shamans, people whose ways of thought are rigid and idealistic.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Han Cheon-soo