[Viewpoint] A grating waste of government time

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[Viewpoint] A grating waste of government time

The annual inspection of government offices conducted by the National Assembly is currently under way. Lasting for 20 days starting Oct. 5, the audits have become an arena where the government and opposition parties confront each other over political issues such as the false testimony of Prime Minister Chung Un-chan at his confirmation hearing or the four river development project. Therefore, it will be difficult to expect an accurate inspection that will reveal real mismanagement by the administration.

The National Assembly actually supervises the work of government offices almost year-round through deliberation on bills and resolutions. But it conducts separate inspections of government offices, too. When the two major parties fought over the media laws at the beginning of the year, politicians left the day-to-day business of the Assembly on autopilot, but they conduct the annual audits of government offices on time without fail simply because it’s on the schedule.

Civil servants and employees of public organizations, who prepare for the inspections, work under crisis mode around this time of the year, because they have to prepare the huge piles of materials demanded by lawmakers. Yet I doubt the materials prepared for the inspections with such haste are all properly inspected. When I visit the assemblymen’s hall in Yeouido, I frequently see unopened documents stacked up in the hallway or lying around on the floor.

Committees with many subsidiary organizations, like the Knowledge Economy Committee, plan to visit 34 organizations in 20 days to evaluate their performances. The Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee will divide overseas missions into four groups and inspect a total of 18 missions this year. The Korean Embassy in the United States is a favorite that appears on the inspection list every year, and the committee will even go to embassies in Ethiopia and Tunisia.

Compared to the work done by the Board of Audit and Inspection, which works on each organization with 10 to 20 inspectors for two to three weeks, the National Assembly inspection barely scratches the surface. This is why audit season is so often criticized as nothing more than a chance for lawmakers to travel abroad and shout at people.

The questions and materials presented by assemblymen are often the same ones already reported on by the press, or simply an analysis of related figures with no point at all. Sometimes they repackage something already pointed out by the Board of Audit and Inspection to criticize the organization under inspection, as if they themselves found a problem with it.

Once they shake up a government office by exposing a problem and distributing news releases here and there, the press outlets usually pick them up and report them with great alarm.

The annual inspection of government offices is gradually turning into an event focused on finding that one big case. It is a good thing that some assemblymen frequently visit administrative offices and present problems (and solutions) civil servants did not catch, even if it is just so they will be praised.

But so much gets in the way. There are quarrels even over the selection of witnesses or references because of conflicting political relationships. Lawmakers seem to grab witnesses at random and summon them at their whim. Then they make them wait around for the whole day, or ask just one or two questions. Legislators try to summon presidents of large companies as witnesses whenever the hearing has anything to do with those businesses. Lobbyists from the companies inevitably arrive later to ask for their executives to be removed from the list.

Korea is the only country where the legislature has both the right to inspect government offices and the right to investigate the administration. Most advanced countries create committees with the right to investigate the administration when special issues are raised, and hold hearings to gather information on the situation and explore possible solutions.

When a case is seen as so intractable that it cannot be handled using just the National Assembly’s right of investigation, or when it requires expertise in a special field, lawmakers request an inspection by the Board of Audit and Inspection.

This right, which was enacted by the revision of the National Assembly law in 2003, is aimed at helping the National Assembly play its role as a check on the administration through objective inspections by expert organizations. The number of inspections started by petition is also increasing every year.

Therefore, now is the time to seriously consider the abolition of the inspections of government offices by the National Assembly. The National Assembly standing committees can address routine problems through interpolation and by using the right to inspect the administration for deeper examinations of complex issues.

As the National Assembly is currently studying the revision of the constitution, the abolition of the annual National Assembly inspections of government offices should be included in it. The inefficiency of the current inspection system is too great, allowing the National Assembly the fun of “punishing” civil servants, executives and employees of government-affiliated organizations by abusing its right to inspect the administration.

*The writer is vice chairman of Deloitte Anjin LLC.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Pyun Ho-bum

Working-level officials monitor the National Assembly audit of government offices Tuesday at the Korea Creative Content Agency. [NEWSIS]
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