[Viewpoint]Take a pass on civil service changes

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[Viewpoint]Take a pass on civil service changes

The government plans to change its state examinations for public servants. Instead of a guarantee of employment, passing the exam will be “a preliminary test for the selection of candidates to be employed as public servants.”
Under the new system, the government branches will be able to select their candidates according to individual needs from a Civil Service Commission-created pool of talented people. The Commission will select about 115 to 120 percent of the number of public servants needed to be hired.
The interview test that has been carried out by the Civil Service Commission will instead be conducted by each of the concerned ministries so they can make their own choices.
Those who have passed the preliminary test will be qualified to stand for three years as candidates for public posts through the interview conducted by each ministry.
The public servants in the pool will be allowed to get jobs in the private sector while they wait on the list. Even if they take such a job, they can still be hired as a government official if they pass the interview at any of the government branches.
During their three-year stay on the reserve list, they will be given a number of interview opportunities, but employment is not guaranteed. The Civil Service Commission will finalize the enactment of the new system in the first half of next year. The system will begin in 2011, after a notification period of about three years.
The commission is confident the introduction of the new system will be smooth because the same system is already in place in Japan.
However, there are differences in the situation between Japan and South Korea.
In South Korea, the popularity of government jobs is very high because young Koreans are pursuing stable jobs due to economic difficulties.
The number of civil servant applicants is decreasing in Japan because of its economic recovery and due to former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s reform policy, which emphasized the transfer of work from the government to the private sector.
In 2006, the number of applicants to Japan’s first-class state examinations for the employment of public servants in administration, finance and law, which is equal to Korea’s government examination for senior civil service positions in administration and finance, decreased 13.6 percent compared to 2005. The number of applicants for second-class state examinations for lower-level public posts decreased 22.6 percent. Therefore, the importance of creating a pool of talented people and securing them for future employment in public posts is greater in Japan than in South Korea.
If an interview is introduced in Korea, the possibilities of interventions through school cronyism or regional relations is a concern. Although regionalism and school cronyism play important roles in Japan too, the possibility of intervention and favoritism regarding state examinations is less than that of South Korea, since there is relative transparency in Japan. That can be seen by the fact that people who make questions for state examinations stroll around without concealing their identity before the examination.
In South Korea’s case, however, there is a high possibility that everyone who passes the preliminary examination will exert all of their efforts to lobbying so they can join a major government ministry.
It is also questionable whether it is possible to judge the candidates’ aptitude and capability for each ministry through an interview. In general, the abilities of a person are revealed through actual work after a certain period of time after the person joined the ministry.
There are other side effects, too. If the candidate who passed the preliminary test fails to pass an interview during the three-year reserve period, how will the government compensate their loss of time?
Also, the candidates will be allowed to find jobs in the private sector while they wait for employment in the government.
They could also be employed as a public servant if they pass an interview. If that is the case, there is ample reason for private businesses to protest it as a government-centered employment system.
Isn’t it a big loss on the part of private sector businesses, if they have to hand over talented workers to the government ministries after recruiting them and training them for one or two years?
It will also be a problem if local autonomous organizations, including those in remote islands and inland areas, are given less preferential treatment from people who want to enter a major company.
At the same time, it should be clarified that whichever organization is responsible for the retirement management of the civil servants.
The the preliminary test is under the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission while the right for final selection and employment belongs to each government ministry.
We should also pay attention to the fact that the year 2011, which is suggested by the present government as the year of the implementation of the system, falls in the last year of the next government, not the present government.
The selection and training works of senior government officials who will lead the nation should be a long-term plan for the nation.
The change in the public servant employment system suggested by the present government should not contradict the overall plan for administration of the next government, and the overall plan of the next government has not been presented.
Therefore, it is desirable that the current government entrusts such an important change in the system to the next government and concentrates its energy instead on concluding pending issues that it has started.
The best thing it can do is to make a “wish list” of things that the current government aimed to accomplish but couldn’t, and pass it on to the next government for reference.

*The writer, a professor of public administration at Hansung University, is the president of the Korean Association for Policy Sciences.

by Lee Chang-won
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