President’s speech elicits grumbles

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President’s speech elicits grumbles

Although President Park Geun-hye’s address to the nation was generally well received, there were mixed feelings from the public sector yesterday over the president’s determination to overhaul the world of public jobs, known as “iron rice bowls.”

Most government officials in the Sejong Government Complex welcomed the president’s remarks with a sense of empathy.

But they expressed their deep frustration over the president’s pledge to review an overhaul of the state examination, called “gosi” in Korean, to become high-ranking government officials.

“Despite low salaries compared to my counterparts in the private sector, my colleagues and I have been proud to be government officials,” said a director general at one of the ministries in Sejong.

“Many officials endure relatively low wages until retirement with the hope they can have a long career life after retirement by moving to affiliated institutions, which is rampant these days, generating buzzwords like ‘gwanfia,’” referring to retired government officials exercising power over related agencies, said the official on the condition of anonymity.

In Korea, college students who dream of becoming public servants spend more than a year to prepare for the state exam. If they pass, they are guaranteed jobs and pensions.

Some reacted negatively to the president’s suggestion of inviting experts in the private sector into the public sector.

“There will not be many who would want to work for the government and have their salaries cut in half,” said a director-level official at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

Local industry leaders have showed their support for the president’s address on the Sewol ferry tragedy as they promised a safer work environment.

The Federation of Korean Industries, a lobbying group for conglomerates, said it supports the Park’s promise to improve and upgrade the nation’s safety system so such accidents won’t happen again.

“Through this accident, we need to quickly fix widespread abnormal practices and the system in order to make a country where basic principles and rules stand,” the FKI said in a statement.

The Korea International Trade Association and the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry also were supportive.

“The trade industry is convinced the president can achieve fundamental reform to rebuild Korea,” KITA said in a release. “We will actively go forward to make a new Korea and a safe Korea.”

Since the Sewol tragedy, most companies have gone through special safety inspections and reviews of their safety plans in the workplace. But in addition to safety, they also are reviewing whether they have any “abnormal business customs” regarding customers.

“It is a situation that every company needs to be cautious about,” said an executive at a major conglomerate. “If controversial problems occur, the damage to the corporate image is immense. We just hope the situation can be resolved with good results and the local economy can get back on track.”

BY SONG SU-HYUN, JOO KYUNG-DON [ssh@joongang.co.kr]



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