Smooth drivingYou would be lying if you say you’ve never thought of quitting your job. It is great if you enjoy your work, but that doesn’t always happen. If you hand in your resignation, whether it is accepted or not, your mind will wander from your job. No office worker will do his best after resigning. What would happen if the head of an organization sends in his resignation? Whether he really means to resign or not, he won’t have much authority until the resignation is accepted or turned down.
The Lee Myung-bak administration’s cabinet is now in that situation, and their halfhearted work shows it. Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and 15 ministers handed in their resignations to President Lee on June 10 to take responsibility for the beef controversy. It’s been nearly a month, and the president has not yet made up his mind.
Partly because of the large-scale candlelight vigils over the weekend attended by religious leaders, a new cabinet lineup is expected to be announced soon. Only a few will be replaced in the reshuffle. I wonder if the citizens are willing to embrace the president’s courage to lead the nation with ministers who have proven to be incompetent.
With the prime minister and ministers working halfheartedly, civil servants have grown distant as well. It is only natural that a leader does not have authority after resigning. The situation is even more serious in ministries where ministerial replacements were mentioned from the beginning. Officials do not pursue or propose new policies in an administrative vacuum.
Civil servants who have played along with the “early bird” and “no holidays” act are complaining of exhaustion. Some have grown cynical. A department head of a central government agency says, “I always go to work at daybreak and work until 11 p.m. I am exhausted but working halfheartedly. It’s as if I am acting like I’m working hard.”
The fuss over lunch at the Central Government Complex at Sejong-no on July 4 illustrates the cynicism of civil servants. The Ministry of Public Administration and Security designated a day of eating out and closed the cafeteria to boost neighborhood restaurants. The event was the first of its kind since the complex opened in 1970. The neighborhood was crowded with over 5,000 civil servants during lunch.
On a weekday, about 1,200 civil servants have lunch at the cafeteria. On this day, they ate out, so the restaurants must have enjoyed extra customers.
However, the civil servants were skeptical. “Do we really have to stage a performance?”
“We are already treated like servants, and now we cannot even eat what we want.”
“The cafeteria and its suppliers will suffer because of this.”
Their reactions were unexpected and discouraging.
On the surface, civil servants have changed quite a bit. They are making good efforts. Let’s look at the seven catch-phrases the government has emphasized as principles for civil servants. These are: corruption-free, best, teamwork, global, Blue Ocean, site and servant. With the catch phrases being in English, the civil servants can at least refine their language skills.
As they are working on site, ministers will at least personally meet those who filed complaints and paid for meals in restaurants. These are the same ministers who almost used taxpayer money on their children’s schools.
The keywords from the Roh Moo-hyun administration such as “road map” and “innovation” have been locked up in the closet. The civil servants are switching to Lee administration mode.
However, the actual change in behavior is disappointing. Civil servants are still idle and stubborn, and it is hard to find any who sincerely cares about the citizens. Meanwhile, the economy has collapsed.
One thing that has surely boomed is the candle industry. With demonstrations continuing for over two months, candle sellers are enjoying brisk business. However, most of the candles are made in China.
The problem is an absence of principles when making appointments. The president declared he would only employ the best, but he ended up choosing the worst. A reshuffle often ends up demoting the wrong people. An official with competence and leadership is labeled incompetent overnight and finds himself studying at the Central Officials Training Institutes for four months. The evaluation system is not operating properly, so those who side with the right boss prevail over the competent ones.
When you drive using sudden bursts of acceleration and braking, fuel efficiency drops and the lifespan of the car is shortened. The safety and comfort of the passengers depend on who is driving. The same is true of the government. We cannot let the government operate like this. The government needs to control speed, enhance productivity and find ways to impress the citizens. The president, ministers and civil servants need to start over. We do not need any more performances.
*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yang Young-yu