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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Jan. 8)

All News 07:00 January 08, 2018

Meritless revision
Proposal to acknowledge civic group careers of public servants is inequitable

The Ministry of Personnel Management issued a public notice of its proposed revision to salary regulations that will acknowledge full-time work experience in civic groups as part of a public service career. The proposal aims at raising pay for former civic activists hired as public servants, but arouses concern about the fairness of career acknowledgement and the preferential treatment of pro-government groups. It needs to be reviewed from square one.

The draft is to some extent convincing. Indeed, quite a few full-time staff workers of nongovernmental organizations contribute to society in the fields where government employees find it hard to work. The ministry says the revision is meant to reward civic activism for the societal values it serves.

However, this justification is less convincing. The concept of societal values is ambiguous as a criterion for deciding whether to acknowledge careers, and whether civic activism is valuable and integral to public service enough to be compensated is questionable. Contrary to what the ministry wishes, the proposal has met criticism and opposition, with aspiring civil servants leaving sneering comments on the Cheong Wa Dae website that they may well seek NGO jobs first.

Presently, the government acknowledges private-sector careers partly or fully, and very restrictively, by limiting them to a handful of certified jobs or conditions such as lawyer, accountant, Ph.D. holder or hard-to-find professionals in special fields. Once recruited into public office, they are required to work in their areas of expertise.

Under the proposal, however, a maximum 70 percent of civic group careers would be acknowledged and reflected in salary, even if public servants who were NGO workers are assigned to jobs unrelated to their previous experience. If NGO careers are related to the jobs, they are fully acknowledged. Though the proposal requires the examination of the careers before deciding whether to acknowledge them, it is inequitable in comparison to the rather fastidious acknowledgment of careers in other professions.

Careers at over 13,800 NGOs are said to be eligible to be acknowledged under the proposal. Some of the NGOs claim plausible causes as their rationales behind their existence on the surface, but as a matter of fact tend to be engrossed in self-interest. Worrisome are the groups who hold or join violent anti-government demonstrations. Civic groups that falsely claimed electromagnetic waves of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system were fatal or that led vehement protests against a naval base project on Jeju Island are those sort.

It is also feared the proposal could demoralize officials. Existing civil servants would find it hard to understand that protests against government policies would be ironically compensated with career acknowledgement and salary increases.

The proposal raises suspicions that it was meant to give special treatment to civic groups in line with the Moon administration.

It is common knowledge that not a few former activists have been employed by the current government. Even though the Moon administration is well known for its tendency to listen to civic groups, it seems pretty brazen of it to put its finger on civic activists alone as beneficiaries of career acknowledgement and resulting salary benefits.

The proper function of NGOs is to watch and criticize the government to curb its excesses. NGO workers deviate from the function when they become civil servants who formulate and execute government policies. The proposal is feared to put wholesomely tense relations between NGOs and the government on the fritz.

Nonprofit civic groups operating on a small budget are worthy of government support as the occasion demands to help enhance the common good they strive to achieve. Be that as it may, it is not right to give salary preference to NGO careers.

If the government meant the revision to treat pro-Moon groups preferentially, it must be reconsidered from square one.

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