[FORUM]‘F’ for the chief bureaucrat

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[FORUM]‘F’ for the chief bureaucrat

“Civil servants are those who serve the people. They should be the best in providing service and this is their duty.” This is what President Roh Moo-hyun asked of 80 ministers and vice ministers on Oct. 30.
The concept of service was introduced to public administration in the early 1990s. Canada, the United States, Britain, France and New Zealand began a movement to adopt administrative service charters or service standards, and our government has also actively pursued one led by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs since 1998. The core of this movement is to connect the customer-oriented mindset of business to government administration. Just as businesses stake their success or failure on attracting customers, so should the government offer administrative services that can satisfy its customers, the people. This movement was a great change in idea from reigning to serving the people; the government began to be concerned about examining what customers for public service wanted and minimizing their inconvenience.
There are many cases to be applauded in the book “The Government Is Changing,” published by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs. Changing the system so that prospective draftees can choose their date of enlistment and their training camp of choice is a revolutionary change that we could never dream of before. It is also an excellent idea for the government to decid to announce immediately the interim results of the first round of qualification examinations for patent attorneys when applicants complained that it took two months to know the final result. These cases show a new concept of administrative service: the government thinks from the position of its customers. When a person wants to build a plant, our government offices are still not free from the stigma of regulation, annoyance and red tape, but it is also true that changes are taking place here and there. This is an encouraging phenomenon.
The real problem lies in the level of service to the people that the president provides as the head of the administration and the top official of administrative services. Of course, it would be unreasonable to assess the president’s behavior from the administrative aspect of “implementation” only. But the president cannot be an exception to the yardstick called customer satisfaction. It is right for the customers to check and criticize from time to time whether the president gives the people, the customers, satisfaction by making them feel comfortable, pleasant and prosperous.
Unfortunately, various polls gave President Roh a failing grade in administrative services. In an opinion poll by the monthly publication “Next,” 77 percent of respondents said the future was uncertain or hopeless. To a question about who was the most responsible for unsettling our society, 40 percent answered the president and the ruing party. In a poll by the Munwha Ilbo, a daily newspaper, on Nov. 2, 89 percent said, “Conflict has increased since the inauguration of the Roh administration.” Far from being satisfied, customers are anxious and uncomfortable and some are extremely angry. Asking civil servants to be the best in administrative services while driving his customers into this situation is an outrageous contradiction. As society has become boisterous and the economy difficult, a cynical comment has emerged: That a gathering of people who love the president is transformed into a gathering of people who felt cheated. The situation is uncommonly serious.
The people now want to see a ray of hope in the economy and thirst for a leadership of integration in politics. The people are fed up with Mr. Roh’s push for his four large “reform bills” and fighting over their justification without any particular way to solve problems. If the president embraces opposition forces and listens to them, the atmosphere could change. Has he ever once had a meeting of proper dialogue and persuasion with opposition leaders and conservative forces? This is tantamount to ignoring customers.
I don’t want to discuss again the countless trial and error that he has committed until now. But now he should change. Rearmed with a customer-oriented mindset, he should start anew with the task of grasping what the people as customers want. How about hanging in the president’s office the administrative service charter that has hung in every local government office?

* The writer is the chief of the editorial page, JoongAng Ilbo.

by Heo Nam-chin
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