[VIEWPOINT]Open government’s closed doors

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[VIEWPOINT]Open government’s closed doors

In this government, I still see people who work without knowing what public duty and civil servant ethics are. It was a very good idea to open up the firmly closed doors of government organizations and to adopt a system of “opening government positions to outside applicants.” According to statistics as of April 1, 2006, the administration under former President Kim Dae-jung appointed 22 non-civil servants and 7 civil servants from other ministries through this open-door system, and this administration under President Roh Moo-hyun has employed 75 civilians and 12 civil servants from other ministries so far. However, since about 55 percent of the jobs that are ostensibly open to outside applicants are filled from inside, it is only a sem- open-door system so far. Still, it was an epoch-making event that an open-door system was adopted for government jobs that had been closed to civilians like an iron gate. The idea was that a transfusion of new blood would be a shortcut to reforming an old-fashioned and authoritarian administration.
Although it was good that government jobs were opened to outside applicants, the controversy over personnel appointments, including the recent scandal surrounding the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, never ceases to stir our society. I think it is proof that the present government is a closed one that goes against the tide of the times.
The government is very strict in enacting laws and introducing new systems, but those who manage them sometimes end up distorting the true intentions of the changes. If this happens in the personnel management system in particular, the order of officialdom crumbles easily.
The heads of government agencies, such as the National Audio Visual Information Service, the National Institute for International Education Development, the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Central Science Center, that are administered under independent management, are selected from applicants who are former civil servants or civilian experts. Positions such as the auditor of the government fund management policy at the Ministry of Planning and Budget, or the head of the women’s and youth policy department at the Office for Government Policy Coordination under the Prime Minister’s Office are selected from civil servants from other ministries or agencies.
The process of selection is also strict. The lists of main jobs of the open positions are made public and the qualifications of applicants are screened to see whether the person is right for the job or not. A candidate review committee is formed to weigh the academic qualifications and professional careers of the candidates, and the committee evaluates each candidate’s capabilities in (1) specialist skills, (2) strategic leadership, (3) problem solving abilities, (4) organization management abilities and (5) communication and negotiation techniques, to give each candidate an overall score. The deliberation committee is also made up of specialists in related fields. It is so well planned that there is no chance of anything going wrong.
The problem, however, is that as the papers get closer to the decision maker in the selection process, the priority given to the candidates, which are triple the number needed, changes. Even recently, a second priority candidate was appointed to a position with an annual salary of 200 million won ($208,000). Of course, the priorities can be changed, because the viewpoint of the decision maker may differ from that of the selection committee. One of the biggest problems in personnel appointments in this country is that many candidates for a position look around for useful connections and frequently ask for help. If they somehow find a connection, they go to that person and bother him or her with a plea for help. Most of the time, they also bad mouth their competitors. People who do not act like this are also selected at times, but most of the time such people don’t even enter the competition at the beginning.
Putting aside the ugly behavior of the candidates, the behavior of those who have the appointment rights and those who have a decisive influence on appointments is an even bigger problem. A position in the government has nothing to do with a certain individual person. Only the “position” exists, not “me,” in the words of philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Public announcements are made in the capacity of the minister of a certain ministry, the name of the minister should not be revealed. Yet the people in this government appear to be treating government positions as if they are candy in their pockets.
What kind of administration is this? Isn’t this the government that has promised to open a new era, create a new order and a new administration, claiming that it would promote freedom and justice and discard the old vices that were practiced under previous administrations? Will they really be able to hold their heads up if they change their words, come up with excuses, blame others for their mistakes and act no different from, or even worse than, previous administrations?
What is the difference between biased personnel appointments that embrace the cronies of those in power and business conglomerates’ illegal transfer of assets to their sons and daughters?
Those who hold personnel appointment rights in the government should be as cool-headed as to be called too harsh. Government officials who are in the position of handling personnel affairs should refrain from recruiting their own people. They should not only be able to tell the difference between public and private affairs by arming themselves with the spirit and ethics of civil servants, but also be able to make choices that put people close to them at a disadvantage. It is a matter of whether to have one or two people on their side or the entire country.

* The writer is a professor of public administration at the Graduate School of Seoul National University and a former chairman of the Civil Service Commission.

by Kim Kwang-woong
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