[Outlook]Hiring heads

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[Outlook]Hiring heads

Controversy has erupted over whether the heads of government-run organizations employed during former President Roh Moo-hyun’s administration should stay or go.
The government and the ruling party maintain that as the new administration brings with it a new ideology, people from the past administration should resign.
This would enable those who share the same ideas with the new administration to work together.
The opposing view is that the tenures of organization heads are stipulated in related regulations, making it a misuse of power to oust them.
The Roh administration certainly employed people whom the administration favored, which is one major reason why his government lost public support. The president’s careless remarks certainly didn’t help.
It is true that the former administration met many demands from the science and technology field, for instance.
The position of deputy prime minister of science and technology was created and the budget for research and development increased significantly.
But when appointing heads for some government organizations for science and technology, the administration didn’t appear to care about the appointees’ professional skills and knowledge.
Despite these flaws, the argument that organization heads’ tenures should be guaranteed cannot be ignored.
As it is, this debate is likely to continue for a long time to come, tiring people on both sides.
Moreover, if the current system doesn’t change, we are going to face this kind of controversy once every five years, which will waste precious time and energy.
The fundamental cause of the chaos is the procedure to employ these organization heads.
When vacancies for these positions came up under the Roh administration, a committee comprising experts from the private sector was formed.
This executive board was supposed to choose one candidates from the group.
But in practice, it was influential people outside the committee who chose the head-to-be.
They pushed their decisions through other executive boards and recommendation committees.
That meant candidates had to be busy networking with powerful figures, instead of preparing how to run their organizations.
The recommendation committees or executive boards lost the motivation to find competent candidates and simply did as they were told.
One organization actually dropped the interview process and went ahead and hired a head.
Universities subject student applicants to serious interviews during the admissions process.
So it makes no sense that a government organization would not interview the person who will run its organization for years to come.
Thus the new administration must make systems related to personnel affairs more transparent and responsible.
The recommendation committees and executive boards must be given the power, while the administration must play a secondary role in filtering out inappropriate candidates.
Even though the administration can gather information, it can’t possibly know all the experts in all fields.
Then when influential people get involved in personnel affairs, they tend to make noise and create more controversy.
We have seen this throughout nominations for the legislative elections. So experts in the private sector should be given the task of finding eligible prospects.
This is particularly crucial for organizations where professional knowledge and skills are important,
The heads employed through this procedure must he given the guarantee that they will be allowed to serve out their terms.
But for organizations where the head’s ideology is important, or where the administration wants to carry out reforms, it is better that the government employs its own people and ensures that their tenures coincide with the administration’s term of office.
The new administration has already taken shape, but it is following past procedures for employing senior officials of government organizations.
If the government doesn’t change its procedures soon, the administration will lose the trust of the people and probably come under fire in five years’ time for having employed only favorites.
Employing competent people as heads of government organizations is an important way of boosting efficiency. A fair system to employ them must be sorted out as soon as possible.


*The writer is the dean of the College of Natural Science at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Oh Se-jung

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