[FOUNTAIN]To the victor belong the appointmentsThe practice of giving appointive offices based on political contributions or loyalty is called “the spoils system.” Cronies competed for good positions as hunters pursued game.
Without exception, public administration textbooks consider the spoils system an evil practice because political intent and personal connections outweigh competency and ability. Therefore there is a higher risk of corruption, incompetence and inefficiency.
In the 19th century, the spoils system prevailed in the United States and England. The system of career civil servants was not yet established, and loyalty was a more important virtue for administrators than expertise or professionalism.
James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, signed a bill in 1820 that set the term of senior civil servants at four years so that his cronies could stay in office during his presidency. President Andrew Jackson, who was elected in 1828, believed the spoils system to be a principle of democracy. The official posts were considered trophies of war for the winners of elections. In the United States, the spoils system was prevalent not only in the federal government but also in state and local governments.
After President James Garfield was assassinated in 1881 by a disappointed job seeker, the U.S. government reformed the system. Today, the merit system is the standard in all democratic countries.
But in reality, it is hard to reject the spoils system altogether. Given the same qualification, it is only human to prefer someone with a personal connection. Not only that, but the winner of an election needs to pay back those who supported his campaign. Therefore, the temptation of giving out public positions as spoils always exists. In Korea, the spoils system and other personnel abuses were especially prevalent in government-affiliated agencies and public corporations.
Recently, Jeong Chan-yong, the Blue House senior secretary for personnel affairs, said that it is time for those who enjoyed high positions for a while to voluntarily step aside. He is said to be speaking to the executives of public corporations and affiliated government agencies. Does he think that it is all right to replace those executives all at once if they won their positions in return for their political contribution or loyalty? Then let’s see who will fill those high positions next.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.