Changes necessary for public reform

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Changes necessary for public reform

President Lee Myung-bak merged and integrated government offices under the banner cry for a smaller government and bigger market. But his restructuring had a downside.

Loopholes in public service occurred after offices were closed down and merged. Efficacy and productivity in policies lessened. The government as a whole failed to respond timely to new public demands according to improved living standards, such as public health concerns manifested through: a nationwide protest against American beef imports, a global financial crisis, telecommunication revolution led by smartphones, and mobile digital technology and rising welfare awareness. Cabinet ministers did not attain full authority and confidence from the president and many were unqualified or fell short in commanding their bigger jurisdictions and roles.

The government organization serves as the body to carry out the president’s policy brain work. The incoming government needs a makeover to start fresh and differentiate itself from the outgoing administration based on its new direction. Politically, it can act out campaign promises and visions through its government restructure.

Administratively, the changes can breathe new air in the bureaucratic system, enhance flexibility and hone productivity. The reform can also help fix present and potentially future structural flaws and problems like functional redundancy and disproportional concentration, loopholes and conflict in administrative jurisdictions.

President-elect Park Geun-hye vowed to enforce more democratization in economic affairs and social welfare. She also pledged to drive a future-oriented economy led by science, technology and information innovation and create decent jobs.

She should shape the organization of the government to serve her goals as soon as possible so that public officials can ready themselves with greater responsibility and enthusiasm. It should be her first expedition of campaign promises and building of public trust.

Both the ruling and opposition parties pledged to separate and establish new ministries in the fields of science and technology, information and media and maritime and fisheries. It won’t be difficult for the government to draw a legislative consensus to reorganize the government to incorporate the new agencies.

Moon Jae-in, defeated candidate from the main opposition party, also vowed to pursue an innovative economy to promote start-up companies and creative talent and generate more jobs, as well as strengthening the social welfare system. The incoming government could seek advice and opinions from outside to recreate the government into a more efficient system. It needs to hear out voices from the industry and related field about merging the policy-making and supervisory function of the financial authority and creating a new agency to support small and mid-sized industries.

It is not easy for the president and administration to carry out long-term national strategies and goals during a single five-year tenure. It needs a supplementary role from the enhanced planning and budgeting office and a new think tank to research and develop national strategies. Many underdeveloped nations look up to our country to learn from our rags-to-riches experience.

The nation is undergoing fast demographic changes due to increases in foreigners and Koreans living abroad. It needs services authorities to meet its new global status as a free market and trade powerhouse, such as international development.

Reforms are best carried out when a power is at its peak. They rarely succeed when carried out in the later stage of an administrative term. A new government design and reform usually face resistance and opposition.

The incoming government should present a new design to build a government to serve the needs and will of the people at an early stage when it still has large public support. Government reorganization can be the starting point to reforms in the public sector.

* The author is a professor at the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University.

by Kim Dong-wook
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