[Viewpoint]A permanent roostDasan Chung Yak-yong, a Joseon Dynasty scholar, said, “The life of a civil servant is that of a farmhand. He can be promoted to a higher post in the morning, but can be robbed of his title in the evening. No one knows the future of a civil servant.”
At least nowadays, Dasan’s teaching does not apply to what is happening in officialdom.
Our officials do not budge an inch once they are appointed to a high public post. However harsh the criticism from people around them may be, nothing happens to their official status as long as they close their ears.
In the eyes of the generous boss who appointed them, their errors are nothing significant. The president, who has the right to appoint public servants to high posts, is busy embracing them and covering up their wrongdoings.
Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that government officials serve the people. They are only honorable officials and high public post holders. Naturally, they do not care what people say about them.
As long as the person who holds the right to appoint them sees them in a favorable light, they are free from trouble.
Since there are countless examples, let’s have a look at the latest case ― the case of the commissioner general of the National Police Agency who is the head of 100,000 police officers nationwide.
It is alleged that he was the only police leader who didn’t hear about the case related to a business group chairman’s revenge assault on employees at a bar. It is said, therefore, that he is not responsible for the case. It is alleged that one of his deputies took care of matters related to the case in his place, but he has not called his deputy to account. He must be a generous boss.
He flatly denied the allegation that he had a phone conversation with an executive from the business group concerned. It was revealed later that he lied, but he did not care even after the exposure.
He still expressed dissatisfaction with the press, claiming that the reports on him were misleading.
Since he blames press reports for everything that went wrong, he won the affection of his appointer. The president renewed his confidence in him, rejecting strong pressure from police headquarters to remove their boss.
The president lamented the reality “in which people try to find a scapegoat whenever there arises a problem in our society.”
In fact, the police chief shared the same thought with the president.
He said that the wrongdoing of a police officer involved with a gambling house disguised as a video gameroom was a minor mistake stemming from the officer’s close relationship with the game arcade operator.
Instead he complained about stricter punishment for police officers who run away from their cars when they were found driving drunk.
And as the reason for the increase in the number of police officers being arrested, he cited exaggerated press reports of the minor mistakes of policemen.
He claimed, therefore, that police inspectors should lower the level of punishment on police officers and that everything that went wrong was due to press reports.
However, it was revealed that this strong affection for his subordinates came only after his own safety. If there is anything that concerns him, he gives first priority to his own safety. He handed over a deputy who answered a call from a former police chief and said, “Please talk to my superior because what you are asking about is beyond my authority,” to the hands of prosecutors. This is what we call scapegoating.
I would like to recommend him to read, “Mokminsimseo,” a guide for civil servants written by Dasan. Dasan said the following:
“An unqualified civil servant mistakenly reckons his office as his own and has the tendency to stay there too long. When they hear of an order or rumor of their dismissal, they get embarrassed and are at a loss as to what to do, as if they have lost a treasure. Their wives and children exchange glances of disappointment and shed tears, but their servants sneer at them. They will lose not only a public post, but also many other things. Isn’t it regrettable to see a civil servant like this?”
And Dasan said in addition:
“A wise civil servant considers his office a place for a short stay and keeps the books correctly and arranges documents neatly, as if he is ready to leave the place the next morning. He always keeps his own belongings ready for departure so that he can leave as a bird leaves the tree in autumn. He does not have any lingering attachment to the place. When an official order for his reshuffle arrives, he leaves the place immediately. A scholar should behave transparently and broad-mindedly.”
And he concluded with the following words:
“If a civil servant behaved in such a way, even if a royal inspector tried to dig into his work and an emissary sealed off the warehouse to investigate, how can they hurt even a hairon his head. If a civil servant learns this by heart while carrying out his duty, he will not be embarrassed, whatever happens to him.”
A civil servant can perform his duty without regret if he works as if he can leave the post he is appointed to in the morning on the evening of the same day.
After all Dasan’s definition of a civil servant is not mistaken. There is nothing we can do for the civil servant who makes up his mind to lead a humiliating life.
But those who will be appointed to high public posts in the future should bear this in mind.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom