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The Peninsula

The Government Seeks to Balance Transparency and Innovation

Published February 25, 2020
Author: Korea View
Category: South Korea

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • The Korea Institute of Public Administration (KADI) released results of a survey, which found that fewer public officials felt that they were developing new ideas to solve problems.
  • The survey also found that satisfaction rates among civil servants had steadily declined over the past 3 years, although the numbers are still higher than where they were in 2013 and 2016 under the Park Geun-hye administration.
  • Fewer bureaucrats believed that their agencies were taking risks to innovate – even though these offices outwardly claim to value creativity.

Implications: Enforcement of greater accountability in the civil service by the Moon administration may have had some adverse impact on innovation and bureaucratic flexibility – however, criticisms of these rigidities are also overstated. For the past three years, critics of the Moon administration had cast doubts on the effectiveness of the anti-corruption campaign, claiming that it was fostering a culture of passivity within the civil service. Declining morale among government workers appears to support this claim; however, it is difficult to solely blame the administration’s reform efforts. Satisfaction rates among public officials were even lower under the previous Park Geun-hye administration. Moreover, internal investigations and tightening of regulations have not prevented the incumbent government from rolling out “administrative innovations,” which include bold changes to the work hours of civil servants.

Context: President Moon Jae-in was elected in 2017 riding on widespread public support for greater government transparency. This public outpouring came on the heels of revelations that then-recently impeached President Park Geun-hye had used her office to exchange influence for cash. The main target of President Moon’s reform was the prosecutor’s office which the public perceived as the government body most responsible for abetting the abuse of executive privilege. Simultaneously, the Moon administration has sought to modernize the bureaucracy by adopting technology and providing expanded services to the public.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr account of USAG- Humphreys

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