[NOTEBOOK]Reform requires better attitudes

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[NOTEBOOK]Reform requires better attitudes

There is a popular skit called “Blanca’s ‘What is this?’” on a Korean TV comedy program. A foreign worker in Korea named Blanca comes out and points out absurdities in Korean society. The mockery and criticism of our state of affairs that is hidden in the inarticulate speech of the character Blanca seems to be the secret of the skit’s success.
Satires of this type are appearing on some Internet sites. The reform projects that the Roh Moo-hyun administration is pursuing are also subjects of the “What is this?” parody. They are parodied together with their slogan “Let’s change everything” and people’s reaction saying, “What exactly are they trying to do?”
This backlash that has come out of the blue is probably horrible in the eyes of the officials who are ambitiously pushing the president’s agenda.
However, it is true that there are many government employees who say, “Just hearing the word ‘reform’ gives us a headache.” This shows that there are a lot of faults in the government’s reform projects.
First of all, the political nature and indication of fabrication implicated in the word “reform” is a problem. The paradigm of “everything for the clients and good results” is great, but there are no detailed goals or guidelines to put into practice. There is no information on what will be done for the people who are the clients of the government.
The government is too busy holding numerous impressive events to show off makeshift results.
For example, there is a grade four civil service officer who is a department chief at an administrative branch. Starting from this year, he is participating in a “reform group” that gets together twice a month. He joined the group because his reform scores are lagging behind those of his colleagues, and he worries that this might have a bad effect on his chances for a promotion.
However, he says the actual club activity consists of nothing but chatting about petty things for over an hour. This government employee points out, “Measuring participation in such superficial activities by the number of hours and using that number as a basis of evaluation for personnel management is not innovative at all.” The ideas that public service officials have come up with to get innovation points are also quite poor.
They are commonplace ideas such as “getting rid of office cabinets,” “improving the dark interior of the office,” “making a bright and pleasant office atmosphere,” “getting rid of paper cups,” and “getting rid of executive elevators.” The sight of civil service employees, who have stacks of things to do, putting their work aside to concentrate on getting innovation points is rather bleak.
A government ministry organized a meeting where all bureau chiefs and assistant ministers were invited to show off “the achievements of its reform drive.” But the only one specific reform they had accomplished was: “Let’s reduce conference times.”
It is hard to hear government officials talk about details such as, “This is what the people need and this is the direction in which we need to reform our government structures and administration in order to put things right.” This is also why criticisms can be heard, such as, “Isn’t this just a political slogan to differentiate the administration from the former administration?”
This year, the government pledged, through its guidelines for reform projects, that it would “make our country more reform-oriented by establishing an innovative government structure and developing a reform-oriented culture that will allow us to feel the results of our innovation.” In its detailed guidelines, it has directed “to designate and operate reform-oriented education courses” and “organize and operate a task force meeting for reform education.” However, it all sounds like a party of brilliant yet empty words to the people.
As things go like this, some civil servants negatively say, “It may be reform on the outside, but there is nothing different from the governments of the past on the inside.” In other words, this reform project is no different from the movements to change the civil servant community tried by previous governments.
The present government has appointed officers in charge of reform promotion at 48 central government offices, 16 city and provincial offices and 234 local government offices and has allocated a budget of 23 billion won ($23 million) this year alone. Yet the people are unable to feel the results of reform. It is time to review the reform projects completely.
If the government truly wants to carry out innovative reform projects, it needs, at least, to stop the mockeries, “What is this? Reform? Reform is bad.”

* The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Park Jai-hyun
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