[FORUM]If you innovate, life is sweet

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[FORUM]If you innovate, life is sweet

What kind of positions do civil servants prefer most? Naturally, they would like to be assigned in jobs with prospects for promotions. In general, secretaries to the ministers, mayors and governors are popular, and civil servants prefer to be in the general affairs bureau or the planning and management departments that deal with personnel affairs and budget.
Traditionally, the officials in the departments issuing licenses and permits, levying and collecting taxes and dealing with civil petitioners have been frequently involved in corruption.
It is interesting to note that different positions were preferred under each administration. In the 1970s, the departments related to the Saemaeul Movement, the new community deve-lopment program, were the most popular. President Park Chung Hee himself initiated and promoted the movement, and those who served in the government at the time recall that they were granted both tangible and intangible benefits and compensation by being involved in it.
Deputy heads of the cities, counties and districts used to concurrently hold the position of the Saemaeul chief, which had much influence at the time. Who would have refused to be the flagman of the Saemaeul Movement when it would put you on the fast track for promotion?
In the Chun Doo Hwan administration, the position of emergency planning officer received the spotlight. After Kim Sin-jo and other North Korean armed guerrillas attempted to attack the Blue House in 1968, the post was created to accommodate timely responses to potential national emergencies.
Mostly majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels in the active reserve were appointed, and they were given the task of mobilizing supplies and equipment and finding transportation for the government agency they were in charge of if an emergency arose. But the military regime gave them authority beyond their ranks, and they were always included in major meetings.
The security officers assigned to each government agency never failed to meet with the emergency planning officers. In such meetings, the emergency planning officers not only reported the progress of their policy planning but also discussed the behavior and movements of civil servants. They were basically internal spies.
During the Kim Dae-jung Administration, policy advisors to the ministers were key positions. While some ministers with solid convictions appointed experts as policy advisors, it was more common for them to accept recommendations from the Blue House. The candidates were often former Assembly workers, low-profile politicians and former labor or student activists. Their duties included backdoor communications between the big shots in the administration and the ministers. They were in close contact with the ministers, so naturally the advisors had influence.
In the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the rising star in civil service is the position of innovation officer, created in late March. Forty-eight central government agencies, 16 municipal and provincial governments and 234 local government bodies have innovation officers, and they are treated as seniors in the organization.
President Roh has expressed his full support for them. “Whenever an innovation officer wants to report to me, I will be ready to listen no matter how busy I am. I will even get out of bed for that. Those who can meet the president any time have real power.”
Officially, an innovation officer is in charge of creating a productive organization by reviewing government operations, cutting unnecessary functions and maximizing individual capabilities. Behind the enthusiastic drive for “innovation” lies the administration’s intention to tighten the discipline of civil servants. The motivation can be easily understood if we recall Mr. Roh’s comment that he would personally discipline civil servants unwilling to reform and innovate. The president is distrustful of the current civil service system and thinks that he cannot promote his policies without changing the consciences of the easy-going civil servants.
Many civil servants are cynical about the president’s intentions. But the innovation officers will remain the most envied persons at least until the end of the Roh administration. But just as the position of Saemaeul chief was eliminated and only a few emergency planning officers remain in the government, the future of the innovation officers will not be rosy forever.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Doh Sung-jin
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