Exodus of the bureaucratsIn a strange turn of events, civil servants are leaving jobs at the government complex in Sejong City one after another. Not to mention workers at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, officials at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy are increasingly shaken after their colleagues were arrested for manipulating documents on the economic feasibility of nuclear reactors in line with President Moon Jae-in’s nuclear phase-out policy. As of September, a whopping 61 senior officials of the ministry resigned after the launch of the liberal administration in 2017.
Of course, those elite officials who passed the competitive Civil Service Examination are free to leave their jobs whenever the need arises. But their departure en masse rings alarms throughout the realm of officialdom. As most of them resigned voluntarily, the commotion among junior members has reached a serious level. The number of civil workers who retired within 10 years after passing the tough exam increased sharply from three in 2016 to 15 in 2020. Though jobseekers’ preference for civil servant positions is unprecedentedly high in Korea, government workers increasingly depart from their organization without any hesitation as they are convinced of no future for them.
The sudden collapse of the once-proud community primarily originates with the drastic fall of their organizations. The Blue House and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) are putting more pressure on them than any past administrations. The presidential office and the DP have been hell bent on pressing ahead with their signature policies — for instance, income-led growth policies, the nuclear energy phase-out and regulation-based real estate policies — after turning a deaf ear to opinions from related ministries. The same high-handed approach by the government also can be seen in the doling out of universal relief grants to stimulate the economy.
Government employees have been forced to establish the grounds to justify the policies of the Blue House or promote their efficacy later rather than drawing up policies on their own as they did in the past. No wonder they regard themselves as a group of servants who simply take anything that comes from above.
Their disappointment with top-caliber bureaucrats is another reason for their rush for the exits. Many junior officials are frustrated to see their seniors trying desperately to keep low profiles. In a dramatic turn, the former minister of trade, industry and energy told a lower-level official, “Do you want to die?” after he submitted a report that went against the intention of the Blue House. Under such circumstances, who would work hard? The time has come to first create an atmosphere to encourage civil workers to devote themselves to working hard.