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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Jan. 5)

Editorials from Korean dailies 06:57 January 05, 2021

Stop expanding officialdom

The Moon Jae-in administration is pressing on with increasing the number of civil servants to keep a campaign promise in the face of an unprecedented demographic cliff and a serious slump in the economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite a rapid emptying of state coffers to fight the public health emergency, the government is engrossed with enlarging officialdom at the cost of an enormous tax bill bequeathed to the next generation. If Moon does not change course now, the country will most likely follow in the footsteps of a European country, Greece, whose young people are struggling to survive with the help from their parents' pensions even now.

The Moon administration already elevated the number of civil servants by 120,000 as of last June to nearly match its original goal of swelling the number to 174,000 as he pledged during the campaign. If 6,450 civil servants are added to that, it will certainly call for a gargantuan budget down the road. As a swollen officialdom translates into a huge burden for taxpayers, the government must take a prudent approach before taking action. The recruitment of 174,000 government workers is projected to cost a whopping 328 trillion won ($303 billion) over the next 30 years. Why should ordinary citizens pay such snowballed personnel costs and generous pensions for civil servants in the future?

Welfare expenditures are growing fast in Korea to meet the demand of a rapidly ageing society despite an alarming reduction in the population. The liberal administration's audacious plan to increase civil servants yet again cannot avoid criticism. During the painful Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s, the Kim Dae-jung administration took a drastic decision to cut the number of government employees for the country's sake.

The Moon administration claims it needs to hire more government workers to examine the eligibility of unemployment benefits for more jobless people. But if you look into the scheme, it focuses on using some 20 percent of the increased manpower to handle tax affairs to collect more tax from the private sector. That will only suffocate the vitality of the private sector, dampen its entrepreneurship, and hamper economic growth at a time it is desperately needed.

Civil servants can get their pay — and even more important, their pensions — even when a government's fiscal integrity is threatened. But civil servants in Greece had to accept a sharp cut in their pensions. The New York city government also resorted to laying off civil servants after battling a deficit last year. Can the Moon government avoid such a future? It must stop its blind campaign to increase government workers before it's too late.
(END)

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