Incentives are anachronistic
A committee of private citizens, government officials and military officers tasked with reforming the military culture approved a plan to give incentives to conscripts who successfully complete their military duty. A similar system in which conscripts would be given points when they apply for jobs at the government or at state-run companies was ruled unconstitutional in the past, so the latest plan sparked controversy. The committee said its plan has made up for the shortcomings that were pointed out by the Constitutional Court. The new plan will reduce the incentives, and a conscript will only be able to use them five times in a career. But there are still contradicting views on the issue.
The military reform committee approved a plan to provide incentive points to conscripts who complete their military service successfully. The plan actually brings back a system from the past that was scrapped in 1999 after it was ruled unconstitutional. It is necessary to compensate those who served in the military, but providing benefits to only a few at the expense of the society’s weak cannot be accepted.
The committee’s plan is particularly troublesome because it is an old-fashioned, populist, ineffective measure. In every way, the plan is in violation of the Constitution’s values.
The committee, taking into account a social controversy, proposed a plan to provide up to 2 percentage points on test scores for those vets applying for jobs in the government and at state-run companies, limit the use of the incentive points to five times and only allow up to 10 percent of the newly recruited workers to be hired through the system.
The committee apparently created the program based on the erroneous idea that the Constitutional Court ruled the incentive system unconstitutional in 1999 because it was excessive, although the purpose was legitimate.
Will the program be constitutional if its details are revised? Although its title was changed and benefits are reduced, it is no different in principle from the incentive system that was ruled unconstitutional. Giving an incentive of any magnitude - whether it is 2 percent or 0.0001 percent - it is still unconstitutional.
The revival of the incentive system also has nothing to do with improving the military culture. The committee reportedly recommended the incentive system in order to assuage the soldiers’ feelings of isolation in the barracks and create a productive incentive to serve in the military. This is extremely absurd reasoning. Are they saying the incentive system will improve the culture in the barracks?
Pushing forward a program on a specious justification is an antidemocratic act. That is why the incentive system cannot be considered reform. The Ministry of National Defense is trying to cover up its past wrongdoings with the incentive system, and that is not justifiable.
The proposal also fails to understand the concept of equity. The Constitutional Court’s nine judges ruled that the incentive program was discriminatory against people who did not serve in the military including women and those physically disabled. Those who are supporting the system are saying women can win points if they join the military.
Then is the military open to all women? Right now, it’s not. When there is no equal opportunity, giving incentive points to only those women who served in the military will actually systemize discrimination. That is why some argued that mothers should also be given incentive points when they try to find jobs after raising children.
The program also goes against the Park Geun-hye administration’s policy of opening the era of Government 3.9 based on sharing, making information public and working with greater cooperation. The president has stressed the importance of cooperative work among ministries. If the Defense Ministry is mulling the committee’s plan, that is against Park’s policy.
Some media argue that the military incentive system must be considered as equally just as maternity leave, child care leave and the requirement to hire the physically disabled. They say a win-win solution must be found.
But the system that was already ruled unconstitutional cannot be a win-win in any case. The best way to find a win-win solution is ending this wasteful discussion right now.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of political science at Myongji University.
By Kim Hyung-joon