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Public Administration

Administrative reforms 2

1. Military Government

 

(1) Background

On May 16, 1961, then Major-General Park Chunghee led a coup d’état against the Second Republic under a revolutionary slogan, and established the military government that would remain in power for the next two and a half years.[1] Two days after the coup, Prime Minister Jang Myeon and his Cabinet members convened their final Cabinet meeting during which they stated their intention to resign all at once, while President Yun Boseon confirmed Park’s promulgation of martial law. On May 19, the Military Revolution Committee consolidated the transfer of power by reorganizing itself into the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction (SCNR), and opened the Revolutionary Cabinet the next day, thus launching the military government. On June 6, the Supreme Council passed and promulgated the Emergency Measures Act for National Reconstruction (EMANR). The new Act, given constitutional power, defined the SCNR as the supreme ruling organization overseeing the legislature, the judiciary, and the administration. President Yun continued to hold office until Park Chunghee, then Chairman of the SCNR, appointed himself as acting President on March 22, 1962.

 

(2) Purposes of Reforms

Like its predecessors in the First and Second Republics, the military government stated the democratization of administration, administrative efficiency, and territorial development as the overarching goals of its reforms.

 

(3) Main Actors and Means

Those who participated, or were enlisted, in the process of deciding and implementing administrative reforms in the military government differed significantly from their predecessors in terms of background and expertise. Whereas it was lawyers and others with legal education and training who mostly led the reorganizing task in the two previous republics, public officials, soldiers, and scholars of administration, politics and economics, particularly with experiences of studying in the United States or with American-style training, led the process in the military government.[2]

 

The military government set the precedent of mobilizing university professors in decision-making processes on reforms. Enlisting the participation of these outsiders, however, hardly meant that the process was faithful to the democratic ideal of participation. Although scholars of public administration with educational or training experience in the United States participated in the process, they subscribed to a very conservative view of organization and administration. Their contribution was thus more in the aspect of bolstering the instrumentality and efficiency of the administration, not its democratization (Oh, 2003).

 

It was the SCNR that led the process and implementation of governmental reorganization during the military government period. Under the SCNR’s supervision were the Standing Committee, various subcommittees, and the special committees of the Supreme Council, as well as the Ministry of Government Administration (MGA), the Office of Public Information, the People’s National Reconstruction Movement Headquarters, and the Central Information Agency. Overseeing organizational reform was the Special Committee on Governmental Reorganization (SCGR), comprised of eight members of the SCNR. These members met and decided on matters of organizational reforms by consensus (Park, 2004).

 

The military government attempted various changes and reforms, and set up the Administrative Management Bureau (AMB) as part of the MGA in July 1961 to better handle the implementing process. The AMB was later reorganized into the Secretariat for the Cabinet. It was charged with the task of overseeing government-wide administrative and organizational reforms, and included the Administrative Management Research Committee. The administrative reforms during this era of the military government were imposed in a top-down, single-handed and expedited manner.

The reform leaders who came to power through the violent coup needed to show tangible improvements and progress in order to secure a measure of legitimacy. These reformers, moreover, were quite interested in nation building and economic development as well. Accordingly, they made efforts to expand the functions of the state pertinent to economic development in their process of administrative reforms. This meant repeated reorganization of governmental bodies, as well as the expansion of the public sector and related institutions.[3] There were 11 organizational changes made during the military government period.

 

The new elite did not fear an active government and showed no reluctance in creating and expanding organizations and institutions where necessary to support active intervention by the state, especially when such moves supported administrative improvement. Shaping the overall reform campaign was the preference for centralization over decentralization, expediency over democracy, and standardization over diversity. Although local decentralization emerged as a slogan in the process of organizational reform, along with limited measures at practicing it, there was no stopping the overall trajectory of the reform drive toward centralization and expediency. Certain American institutions and features were adopted to strengthen advisory bodies, improve the personnel administration system, and bolster involved procedures, but these Western elements only served to reinforce the orientation to expediency, standardization, and control (Oh, 2003).

The coup leaders did not clarify or systematize the purposes of their administrative reforms. Nevertheless, their support for big government, the administrative state, and the dictatorial route to development is evident in the strife they faced (Oh, 2003).

 

[1] There are political, economic, and social systematic factors that led to the coup d’état of May 16. First, on the political front, the Jang government of the Second Republic lacked a firm political basis, as the ruling Democratic Party had been deeply divided between the Old Guard and the progressives. Prime Minister Jang envisioned a coalition cabinet enlisting the participation of both sections, but ended up gathering the progressives only as the Old Guard refused his offer for coalition. The progressives also led all four subsequent reforms made in the Cabinet. Second, while the fragmentation of the Old Guard and the conservatives was enough of a threat to the legitimacy of the new government, the revolutionaries and progressives that had been marginalized by the Liberal Party prior to the April Revolution took up politics with zeal, but lost big in the general elections of July 29, thus failing to build a necessary bridge of support for the Jang Cabinet. Third, the success of the April Revolution and the change in power failed to put an end to the pervasive corruption and preferential treatments that had been practiced since the Liberal Party days. Despairing over the fact that they had to continue to struggle with poverty and famine, the people grew all the more desirous of change. Fourth, while Korean society in general was still far from being modern, the unique zeal of Koreans for education had led to an explosive growth of higher-learning institutions nationwide. This, however, produced a great number of college- and university-educated young people without jobs (the so-called “lumpen proletariat”), who sought to release their frustration and anger in political movements (Kim, 1997).

[2] The old political elite, prior to the coup, were landowners, financiers, bureaucrats, and their children who had enjoyed wealth and power since the days of Japanese colonial rule. The coup leaders, however, came to replace these groups as the new elite. The majority of soldiers who took part in the coup had educational or training backgrounds in U.S. military academies, and harbored strong resentment against the existing leaders for their rampant corruption and incompetence. In other words, distrust in the old elite, the hawkish anti-communist sentiment, and the urgent need to fight poverty and hunger were the major psychological factors that motivated these men to take part in the coup. Notwithstanding these visions and promises of transformation, however, many people still felt alienated by the military government. Moreover, the military government tried to coopt and absorb members of the old elite in its early days, thus losing the drive and determination to carry out the reforms it had promised (Seo Junwon, 2007).

[3] Between 1961 and 1963, the number of government employees grew by 17,000 annually on average (Oh, 2003).

 

Source: Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.