[Viewpoint]Lighting a civil fire

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[Viewpoint]Lighting a civil fire

President Kim Heon-gap of Safe Tech, a small company in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang, which produces elevator safety mechanisms, said he has had no faith in public servants until recently. Whenever the company manufactures a new model, it has to go through a performance test and his factory has to be re-evaluated. It is natural to test new products, but Kim could not understand why his factory needed to be checked every single time, because the production process didn’t change. Kim asked the relevant ministries many times to resolve the issue, but their only reply was that they were just following regulations.
When the South Gyeongsang Regional Office of the Small and Medium Business Administration recently asked Kim to file his complaints there, he had low expectations. He submitted a report, thinking that it didn’t matter any more. However, he said the situation was completely different this time. After only a week, he was told the matter was resolved. Someone from the office visited the relevant ministries and obtained confirmation that the relevant regulations would be revised. “I was completely surprised to find out that it was possible for a public servant to work like that,” Kim said.
Kim’s experience is not unique. Lee Yul-gi, president of Komex, an Incheon-based company that produces components for heavy equipment, had a similar experience. Lee’s company is currently developing the first-ever decelerator, which will be used in a fuel-control device in heavy equipment engines. Lee faced difficulties because there was no equipment to provide precise measurements of the test product.
Lee visited the Incheon office of the Small and Medium Business Administration, which reportedly had some measuring equipment, but the office said it could not help Lee. Lee thought that was it, but a staff member at the office put forth the effort to search for the appropriate machine and confirmed that the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology had the equipment. The staff member accompanied Lee to the institute and assisted him until he had completed his precision measurements.
But the help to Lee didn’t stop there. The public servant also helped Lee obtain millions of won in government subsidies to cover 60 percent of the equipment rental. “Was he really a civil servant?” Lee asked in amazement.
The Small and Medium Business Administration has not been a government body best known for its service. Because their jobs were guaranteed and salaries were paid without delay, the people employed there had no reason to work hard on behalf of small companies.
However, the situation has changed completely. About a month ago, civil servants suddenly began running to complete their jobs. Whenever a company filed a complaint, they conducted an immediate site survey. The change came about after the Small and Medium Business Administration established the “1-3-5-7 field task force.” The numbers 1-3-5-7 mean that they will visit the site on the first day of the complaint and resolve the matter within three, five or seven days depending on the issue.
What has prompted these changes at the Small and Medium Business Administration? The change was not because they suddenly felt a sense of duty or sympathized with the hardships experienced by small companies. They did not change because the president ordered them to do so.
They changed shortly after people began discussing the idea of separating regional offices of the Small and Medium Business Administration from their main body and consolidating them into regional governments. Civil servants felt a sense of urgency to prove there was a legitimate reason for them to exist, and that made them change.
In fact, the executives and civil servants serving in regional governments have already been running. Paju Mayor Yu Hwa-seon took only six hours to approve a plan to invite Ewha Womans University to open a campus in the city, a process that usually takes 15 months.
Gunsan Mayor Moon Dong-shin paid 23 visits to Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan to win a contract for the company to open a shipyard in his city.
What motivates regional officials is the strong incentive of being re-elected. So what will motivate public servants in the central government, who have no such incentive? No matter how sternly the president orders them to help companies, they do not move. The Small and Medium Business Administration has now provided an answer.
Let’s threaten to take away the safety net that protects the livelihoods of public servants.
Ulsan and Seoul city governments have already started to root out nonperforming public servants and the Rural Development Administration has followed suit. It is time for public servants to run to earn their daily keep.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jong-soo

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