Public servants increase, but inefficiency an issue

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Public servants increase, but inefficiency an issue

The number of civil servants in Korea is expected to exceed one million this year, hitting a record high, according to the Ministry of Security and Public Administration. But even though the number of public officials has swelled, inefficiency and an unevenly distributed workload have continued to plague the system.

The expansion is part of government efforts to meet rising public demand for social welfare services and tightened public security, in line with President Park Geun-hye’s pledges to eliminate the “four social evils” - sexual violence, domestic violence, school violence and unsafe food.

And while some government employees, particularly those in Seoul, suffer through heavy daily workloads, others can barely find enough to keep themselves occupied during the day.

When reporters from the JoongAng Ilbo visited the fourth floor of the Sejong Government Complex at around 3 p.m. on Friday, they found more vacant seats than workers. And some offices were completely empty.

But the absence of employees on a Friday afternoon appears to be commonplace in Sejong City. Only 30 percent of the entire staff who work at the complex lives here, with most officials commuting from Seoul, a journey that takes less than one hour via the KTX bullet train. Once the weekend begins, the majority prepare to return to the capital.

In fact, most ministers or vice ministers don’t work at their offices in the Sejong complex at all on Friday afternoons, opting instead to spend their time in Seoul. These circumstances have led to a decrease in efficiency among workers and a lack of organization.

Some civil servants in Sejong City have even dubbed Friday and other days when senior officials fail to appear at work as “no boss days,” an idea that has bred a sort of atmosphere in which timeliness is inconsequential.

Cases like this are a testament to the rampant polarization in the civil service sector: While many in the Sejong complex sit idly, a demanding workload has taken a physical toll on other public officials, particularly those in the police force.

On Friday in Seoul, at the Hongik police station in Mapo District, three police officers were busy handling an overwhelming number of phone calls from civilians, with most of the reports being alcohol related. Nine other officers were out of the office on patrol.

Out of all the police stations nationwide, the Hongik police office received the largest number of reports last year, according to police records.

“We usually receive about 120 reports [per day], and 90 percent of them involve alcohol-related violence,” a police officer said. “We often skip meals because we usually have to handle at least four reports during night duty and go out on patrol.”

According to statistics by the National Police Agency, 30 out of 46 police officers have died from cerebral hemorrhages or heart attacks in the past year, conditions they claim were brought on by stress and overwork.

Workload in the civil service sector tends to vary according to location and the responsibilities of each organization. Officials in charge of the state budget at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, for instance, tend to stay at the office late into the night.

Employees of the Fair Trade Commission also cited a lack of manpower, especially in instances when they have to go into the field to investigate management at local companies.

Meanwhile, officials at the newly launched Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries admitted that their jobs aren’t that stressful. Since it was launched 10 months ago, the ministry hasn’t boasted any major accomplishments or projects. Though, in a few instances, these lax working conditions have led to trouble.

Two officials in Daegu City were reprimanded for drinking almost daily during their working hours, often leaving the office altogether. And five other officials in South Gyeongsang were also caught gambling on the job, which resulted in their salaries being cut for three months.

The prosecution has one of the most demanding workloads in the civil service sector, according to officials. At the prosecution, the special investigative unit and the violent crimes unit tend to be the busiest, while the prosecutors’ offices in the Seoul and Gyeonggi regions are busier than those in other cities.


BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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