[EDITORIALS]Public waste, public liesThe Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency apparently falsified data to get good grades in the government's annual evaluation of public agencies. The Board of Audit and Inspection found that when Kotra conducted a customers' satisfaction survey of 16,000 member companies last November, it excluded 4,000 companies whom it thought might be critical. Kotra then ranked first in the category of customer satisfaction.
The agency claims that it was a simple mistake. But the audit board's report of the omission points in detail to intentional action. The productivity incentive payments given to Kotra employees were retracted by the Ministry of Planning and Budget. It is shameless for Kotra, a public agency that uses 200 billion won ($210 million) of tax money every year, to fabricate the data it submitted for a government evaluation and then attribute the omission to a “mistake”
Until recently, the trade agency has been a synonym for public agency reform, but it has been muddling through some hard times in recent years. According to the auditors, in 2004, Kotra’s network of overseas offices had cited a figure of 33.4 billion won as the total value of exports that it helped generate.
But the auditors said the actual amount that Kotra had contributed was only 490 million won. The market information that the agency’s overseas offices provides is reportedly only translations of local newspapers and magazines.
The audit board also recommended that Kotra close or merge 20 percent of its domestic and overseas offices with poor performance or overlapping duties.
Belatedly, the agency has announced that it will restructure its organization, but the problem is too deep-rooted to be solved by simple reshuffling.
The government should take this opportunity to reconsider its policy on public agencies. The administration has claimed that with efficient evaluation and management systems, public agencies could function as effectively as private businesses. But Kotra’s fabrication of its evaluation data is the evidence of how slovenly the government’s supervision of public agencies can be. This incident should not be passed over with mere incentive payment reductions and the disciplining of a few working-level employees.
Furthermore, the government should close public agencies that have lost their functions over time and turn over to the private sector the duties that private businesses and agencies could perform better. This would be the way to save as much tax money as we can.