If it’s not broken, don’t fix it

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If it’s not broken, don’t fix it

The government organization law has been revised as many as 69 times since it was enacted in July 17, 1948, when the Korean Constitution was proclaimed. Most were small moderations on public office roles and works or tweaks due to revisions in other legislations, but a few times the law went under a major overhaul to change the framework in the government structure.

During the early stage of its establishment, the South Korean government ran an umbrella of state, foreign affairs, defense, finance, law and education offices divided by traditional, academic and administrative categories. Today the organization is interlinked and clustered as ministries.

The Ministry of Knowledge Economy changed titles every time the government changed hands to reflect the focus of the time in energy, commerce and industry affairs. The sports and youth affairs ministry and information and communications ministry lost their identities.

The education ministry has been merged and separated several times with the science and labor divisions. Now experts and industry people are not exactly sure whether to consult and refer about research and development with the education, science, technology ministry or the national science and technology commission.

What is ridiculous is that although I am almost an expert in public administration as a professor in the legal field, I have to look up the right title of the government office on the Web because it has been changed so many times. Yet the incoming government is said to be considering another restructure. A reorganization should come natural because the new governing power could enlarge or scale down the government depending on its direction and principle.

But in our case, the work is more similar to a revolution because a government office can disappear or an entirely new agency can be created overnight. The lame-duck syndrome in the last stage of a government term arrives sooner in our country than others largely because of such frequent changes in government organization.

Most government offices take their hands off or defer work in policy development, legal revisions and planning from the second half leading up to the last year in the five-year executive term. Bureaucrats can hardly concentrate on their work when they don’t know where they might end up next.

Government officials spend a year accommodating the new changes in the organization after a new president is elected and then also lag a year before another presidential election comes around.

It is an awful waste of resources that interrupts sustainable national progress and governance. Policy-making and its execution are not something to be experimented with. The president and aides should not regard the government as a lab experiment.

There would be no end to this cycle unless there is fundamental restraint. I propose that when the Constitution is rewritten or revised, it includes a statute on government structure. Since the Constitution has a provision on the president, it also could contain one on government organizations as a function supplementing the presidential executive branch.

When contained by the Constitution, the government organization may become slow in accommodating needs and demands of the changing times because of the rigid nature of the Constitution. But moderation and enhancement in government roles could come through the presidential and prime ministerial offices. A frequent shake-up in government structure can undermine governance and sustainable prosperity.

* The author is a professor at Sungkyunkwan University Law School.

by Kim Min-ho
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