Stop coddling inspectors

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Stop coddling inspectors

The National Assembly inspection of government offices is still mired in old habits.

During its assessment, Seoul National University made a list of the legislative inspectors coming over from the National Assembly‘s Education, Science and Technology Committee. Under each name was noted what kind of tea they liked, how they liked their coffee and what their tastes were.

Though trivial, this episode shows what inspections are really like.

Seoul National University is a sanctuary of knowledge, the best university in the country. That it had to make notes on how to treat the inspectors - which had nothing to do with the inspection itself - raises questions on what it must be like at other organizations under inspection.

The deference shown to inspectors is excessive. Organizations take careful note of the inspectors’ tastes and drinking preferences. They provide dinner and resting places for the chief secretaries and other people accompanying the Assembly representatives, including their drivers. Last year, during an inspection of Daedeok Research Complex by the same committee, after-dinner drinking led to sex entertainment.

In developed countries, a bottle of water is usually enough at meetings regardless of how important the attendees might be. The special treatment ends with some self-service coffee and cookies.

So why are inspected organizations in South Korea so concerned with unnecessary protocol?

It is mainly because of the archaic, authoritarian thinking of the National Assemblymen. Many lawmakers are known to yell at the heads of the inspected organizations if something trivial bothers them - the old habit of abuse of power.

The reprimanded organizations then rebuke their subordinates. So to protect themselves, the people involved in inspections go overboard to please the inspectors.

There is also a structural problem. The inspection period lasts only 20 days, during which over 500 organizations must be visited. So schedules are tight and each Assemblyman has only 10 minutes to ask questions. As a result, inspections are cursory and external formalities are emphasized.

Assembly inspections should no longer remain such a farce. We cannot wait forever for each lawmaker to improve of his own accord. The National Assembly must act quickly to enact structural reforms such as revitalizing subcommittees and hearings.

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