Shuffling to the same beatLocal government offices are embroiled in a sweeping storm of governmental reorganization in the wake of the June elections. Almost as soon as the inauguration speeches were over, a major reshuffle ensued. In the Seongdong neighborhood of Seoul, nearly half of the directors and higher-level officials were replaced. The tsunami also blew into Suwon, Taebaek and other local governments across the nation. Senior officials at some local government offices who were promoted by their predecessors were pressured to tender their resignations en masse, sparking complaints about favoritism, discrimination and revenge for campaign tactics. Many worried this would happen after opposition candidates replaced many conservatives in the last election.
The restructuring of staff and administrative functions following an election is normal. It can breathe new life into an organization and lift morale. But by carrying out a major reshuffle on their first day in office, newly elected local officials are getting off on the wrong foot and raising accusations of favoritism. Those laid off in the reshuffle will likely challenge their old bosses in the next election. Furthermore, this practice of reshuffling government staff every four years following an election will create civil servants who are sensitive to elections, rather than the needs of citizens. In the end, it will be the public that pays the price for such maneuvering.
Heads of institutions that are run or funded by local governments are also in hot water. Kim Doo-gwan, who surprised everyone and beat a ruling party candidate for the South Gyeongsang governor post in last month’s election, demanded that all heads of public institutions promoted by his predecessor resign even before he took office. His actions mirror the central government’s pattern of reshuffling its offices every time there is a transfer of power. To maintain stability, the head of a government office should be allowed to finish his or her promised term, no matter what the results of an election are. But this is a difficult guarantee to make. The people presiding over the public institutions should be equipped with professional capabilities. If they aren’t, the institutions are bound to become ineffective.
Public offices should not serve the self-interests of the party in power. All appointments should be made based on reasonable grounds. Favoritism breeds incompetency and will only perpetuate the tendency toward appointments based on election results. This will only serve to undermine the government at the public’s expense. The newly elected heads of local governments must remember that they are being watched by the voters, who could decide to shuffle them out the door the next time around.