[Viewpoint]Downsizing ministriesOkurasho, a Japanese government ministry that used to be in charge of finance, was disbanded seven years ago. It was the most powerful government body in Japan. It was known as “the ministry of ministries.” During Imperial Japan, when an officer from Okurasho went to Manchuria on a business trip, the mighty Kanto Army would welcome him with a military parade. The ministry used to control the budget, tax and finance with an iron fist. Naimusho, or the Home Ministry, was in charge of police. But when Naimusho was abolished by the occupying United States forces after the defeat of World War II, Okurasho became the unchallenged, all-powerful agency. The only power that could keep Okurasho in check was the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. From 1967 to 1968, Okurasho maneuvered to exclude the ruling party from the budget compilation altogether. But the attempt was frustrated by the counteroffensive of the party executives. Okurasho and the Liberal Democratic Party have since maintained a symbiotic relationship, acknowledging each other’s power, according to a book by Masaru Mabuchi entitled, “Why Was the Ministry of Finance Cornered?”
The young talents who passed the Higher Civil Service Examination and joined Okurasho were sent to the Diet as soon as they completed the training.
Their responsibility was to obtain information on the lawmakers’ questions to Okurasho in advance.
While other ministries entrust this job to senior officials, Okurasho had the new hires collect information.
By assigning this important task, the ministry wanted the newcomers to get used to politics and establish networks, seeking to instill in them the pride that each of them was worth a hundred people.
After six to seven years with the ministry, the Okurasho official would be transferred, becoming the chief of a local tax office.
Some 27-year-olds were treated with the same respect given to a mayor, a police chief, bank branch heads and local business owners.
He would also be the most eligible bachelor in town, with offers of marriage from distinguished local families.
The Okurasho officials walked on the elite path for the rest of their lives, controlling Japanese society.
If he resigned in the middle of his career, he would be flooded with job offers from government subsidiaries and the private sector.
After four years of discussion, in 2001, Japan abolished the powerful agency all at once.
It was such a big event that Korean President-elect Lee Myung-bak called it “very impressive.”
The presidential transition team is reportedly considering abolishing the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Information and Communication, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and the Ministry of Science and Technology. These ministries are in fact not powerful government agencies.
They cannot be compared to the mighty Okurasho of Japan. The Ministry of Information and Communication was relatively influential among them, thanks to the development in the communication and IT fields.
Nevertheless, it is a matter of life and death for the organization, so the country is troubled with voices opposing the abolishment.
For instance, opponents of the abolishment ran advertisements in newspapers over the last couple of days.
An advertisement appealed in the name of 730,000 IT workers and over 20,000 IT companies, “Will the Republic of Korea Give Up On IT?” It argued that the abolishment of the ministry would lead to the reduction and shutdown of many companies.
Those opposing the abolishment of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries claimed that the ministry must be kept to realize the dream of becoming one of the five maritime powers in the world. Others invoke the territorial dispute over the Dokdo Islets and the 2012 International Exposition in Yeosu.
Will IT companies die away if the Ministry of Information and Communication is abolished?
Will the Yeosu Exposition be ruined if the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries is dissolved?
I don’t think so.
The department heads at the Ministry of Information and Communication are civil servants who passed the 22nd to 31st exams for higher civil service. The Ministry of Industry and Resources is mentioned as the agency that may absorb the job of the information ministry.
I fully agree with transition team spokesman Lee Dong-gwan’s comment: “The life and death of the ministries is an interest of the civil servants, not a concern for the public.”
The citizens are not interested in the job functions of each ministry and the level of positions for public officials.
Moreover, every Tuesday has been a day of civil servant expansion under the current administration. The number of civil servants increased by 65,000, and the citizens have an additional tax burden of over 5 trillion won.
Government ministries should be an organization for the people, not for their own sake.
Seven years ago, the Japanese government reshuffled the government structure to drastically downsize from one office and 21 ministries to one office and 12 ministries.
I am now paying close attention to how strong the Lee Myung-bak administration will be.
*The writer is a senior culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun