Bureaucrats prove busyness by signing MOUsSigning a memorandum of understanding between ministries is the new trend in Korea’s government bureaucracy following President Park Geun-hye’s repeated admonition to apparatchiks to “lift partitions” and cooperate.
A memorandum of understanding is a kind of pre-agreement that parties sign before a formal agreement or contract. Although MOUs were signed between ministries in the past, the number of MOUs signed during Park’s half-year in office has been particularly high.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock Minister Lee Dong-phil signed an MOU on cooperation between the ministries in international development projects in agricultural.
On July 30, Yun and Land and Transportation Minister Suh Seoung-hwan also signed another MOU on cooperation in projects related to official development assistance. On the same day, the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning and the Ministry of Security and Public Administration signed an MOU on efforts to make Korea’s economy more creative. On July 12, the Ministry of Education and Korea Customs Service signed an MOU on their cooperation over free trade agreements.
On July 9, another MOU on cooperative projects for fishing villages was signed between the Ministry of Maritime and Fisheries and the Korea Rural Community Corporation. The Future Ministry and the Foreign Ministry signed an MOU on information and communication technology assistance cooperation on the same day.
And MOUs can be multilateral, not just bilateral. The Future Ministry, National Police Agency and Korea Customs Service signed an MOU to cooperate to prevent the export of stolen cell phones, while the Future Ministry, Environment Ministry, Maritime and Fisheries Ministry and Korea Meteorological Administration signed an agreement on the development of a geostationary multi-purpose satellite project.
The Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning signed the most number of MOUs - 13 agreements with other ministries and agencies.
The trend has spread to local government offices, regional agencies and state-run research centers. The Public Procurement Service and Daejeon Police Agency signed on an MOU to “make a safe city of Daejeon,” while South Gyeongsang government offices agreed jointly to conduct an education program for civil servants.
Critics said public servants are putting on a show to please the Blue House. Since her presidential victory, Park has repeatedly stressed the importance of inter-ministerial cooperation. In her first meeting with her transition team on Jan. 7, Park’s first request was “lifting partitions between ministries” in order to encourage public servants’ cooperation to improve effectiveness.
Since April, Kim Dong-yeon, minister of government policy coordination, hosted biweekly meeting with vice ministers to check on the progress of cooperative projects between ministries, but little progress was seen. Park has expressed frustration repeatedly over the past weeks at senior secretariat meetings and cabinet meetings.
“Because the president repeatedly stressed the importance of lifting barriers between ministries, the bureaucratic society is engaged in a competition to sign MOUs as a show of achievement,” said Park Chun-oh, professor of public administration at Myongji University.
Representative Lee Chan-yeol of the Democratic Party, a member of the Committee on Security and Public Administration at the National Assembly, sneered at the lack of substance in the agreements. The MOU to make a “safe Daejeon” signed between the Public Procurement Service and Daejeon police was singled out.
“They said it aims to promote a public security campaign of the Daejeon police through the Public Procurement Service’s Korea online e-procurement system, Nara Market,” Lee said.
“I wonder how many citizens are even aware of the existence of the Nara Market system. It is undesirable for the government officials to sign the MOUs for photo opportunities to please the Blue House.”
A Public Procurement Service official admitted to the JoongAng Ilbo that the MOU didn’t achieve anything of note.
Some ministries are fighting each other in turf wars even after they sign MOUs.
On April 25, Choi Mun-kee, minister of Science, ICT & Future Planning, and Lee Kyeong-jae, chairman of the Korea Communications Commission, signed an MOU for policy cooperation. The two offices, however, engaged in a public disagreement at the end of last year over policies on the Ultra High Definition TV industry.
“I was away from my office for a business trip to the United States,” Lee complained on July 31. “Shortly after I came back, the Future Ministry announced the plan to introduce UHD TV. It should have consulted the commission in advance.”
Some MOUs are also criticized as reruns of old accords. The geostationary multi-purpose satellite project MOU between the Future Ministry, Environment Ministry, Maritime and Fisheries Ministry and Korea Meteorological Administration signed in June, was criticized as a copycat of a project already announced in August 2011.
That agreement was between the Environment Ministry, Land and Maritime Ministry, Education, Science and Technology Ministry and Korea Meteorological Administration.
The ministries participating in the project are virtually the same, but their names were changed after Park’s government restructuring.
By CHAE BYUNG-GUN, SER MYO-JA [firstname.lastname@example.org]