[Viewpoint]Fewer privileges, more service

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[Viewpoint]Fewer privileges, more service

The presidential transition committee has come up with a refreshing idea: allow entrepreneurs to use the VIP room in airports. An entrepreneur once confessed to me, “Every year, when I pick up new hires, my heart is heavy with a sense of responsibility for them.”
It’s a hard task to create a job. The businessmen who pay large taxes and contribute to the country’s exports are patriots. There is no reason to be against the idea of a society where these businessmen are treated well. In terms of their social contributions, these entrepreneurs deserve the highest respect. However, the seats of honor at alumni reunions or social gatherings have always been reserved for assemblymen, judges, prosecutors and civil servants. Maybe, that’s why people try again and again to pass the national examination or break the bank to run for elected office. The transition committee is sending us a message that such a social order should change.
We need to be reminded why there is a VIP lounge in the airport. It is a place to welcome foreign guests or to hold press conferences before dignitaries travel abroad on official business. Then why do the assemblymen and ministers always stop by the VIP lounge when they are at the airport? They might have caught a taste for privilege; they might not want to mingle with the public.
The VIP lounge is funded with the taxpayers’ money. Is allowing access to the VIP lounge an appropriate way to recognize businessmen? A more pragmatic treatment would be to give corporate executives who frequently travel on business simpler immigration procedures. The use of the VIP lounge should be reduced to a minimum to save taxpayers’ money.
Democracy does not acknowledge privilege. People are not discriminated against based on their birth, family, class or wealth. However, we sometimes need to recognize special rights for those who serve in public positions, even in a democratic country. While all members of society have the right to serve in public positions, only a very few get to hold public office. Sometimes it is necessary to treat them differently from other citizens to let them do their jobs.
Some city states in Italy in the 15th century chose public officers through a lottery to minimize vice. Today, we have terms of service for government officials to prevent abuse of privilege and power. The “serving leadership” is also a way to reduce abuse.
With the emergence of the modern state, a group of people who have devoted their career to serving in the government has appeared. They came to consider the privilege that comes with their public positions as their exclusive right. The more privileged they are, the more backward the country ― just as Korea was in the past. We sarcastically call the Ministry of Finance and Economy bureaucrats the “mofia” because they band together to guarantee juicy positions for each other for the rest of their lives. The ministries that the transition team has talked about eliminating or merging are pulling every string they can. Why are they so desperate? They are worried they will have less privilege. An official at the Government Information Agency scoffed at the transition committee, telling it that civil servants have no souls. He meant that civil servants do whatever each incoming administration tells them to do. However, what the civil servants really lack is a sense of public service. They just do what they are told and enjoy their privileges.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration failed because it did not get rid of such privileges. When they criticized the conservatives, they always censured them as “the vested interests.” Therefore, they should have tried to eliminate such privileges. But what did young lawmakers do to reduce the privileges given to the assemblymen? How about the Blue House officials? They enjoyed the power, as did the people who came before them. Instead of getting rid of the privileges, they shifted them to themselves. From the point of view of the citizens, nothing changed.
Because the president-elect was a businessman, some think he will give priority to entrepreneurs. Some say the political world has become a world for businessmen. The role of the businessman is more important than ever, but that does not mean we need a businessman-oriented country. Entrepreneurs still make up a very small part of society. They are pursuing individual interests, which can conflict with those of other classes in the society.
While it is right to drastically ease the regulations that restrict corporate activities, the government cannot just do whatever businessmen want. Just because we detest public officials, we cannot give their duties to businessmen. Public service is a duty of government officials. When the privileges are reduced and the sense of public service is enhanced, we will have a balanced society.

*The writer is the vice publisher and chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk

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