Voluntary resignations?Seven senior officials at the Education Ministry and three at the National Tax Service have submitted letters of resignation. The Blue House said it did not order these resignations and that this could be a sign of similar moves to come in other government agencies. But given how the civil service works, it is impossible for things like this to happen without thorough planning by those in higher ranks. Grand National Party leader Hong Joon-pyo has publicly said, “When there is an administrative change, the whole public service needs to change.” The Democratic Party said an attempt to replace senior-level government officials is barefaced blackmail of all public servants. Now, all the government agencies are in an uproar over the latest development.
The issue should be carefully reviewed and judged based on the two often-clashing principles of political reality and the guarantee of public servants’ job security.
Until 2006, many first-level officials customarily submitted letters of resignation when there was a new administration, so that the new government could roll out its policies in line with its political principles.
The old custom was certainly not free of pitfalls, including excessive replacement of high-level officials that often disrupted ordinary government operations. But across-the-board replacements of senior government positions, as done in the United States, are customary.
It has been long believed that the operations of such government agencies as the Education Ministry and the National Tax Service are closely related to the administration’s political principles and directions. The Lee Myung-bak administration needed a dramatic turnaround from the policies of the past liberal administrations of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. This discrepancy between the legacies of the past and the current administration’s objectives has long sparked frustration among ruling party lawmakers.
But the biggest issue here is that the current law guarantees the job security of first-level government officials. Thus, pressuring high-level officials to resign voluntarily, instead of firing them, is clearly bending the current law. This will cause the civil service to lose even more of their operational consistency. A politically tricky issue like this needs further review. We must decide whether to overhaul laws pertaining to public servants and require high-level officials to submit resignations when there is a change in administration, or reassign the officials to other positions.