Third and Fourth Republics: First Era of the Ministry of Government Administration
1. Bureaucratic Culture and Public Personnel Administration
The Ministry of Government Administration (MGA), established along with the Third Republic in 1963 and kept in place through the Kim Youngsam administration (1998), was the longest-enduring body of the central government (Kang et al.
, 2007: 86). The Third Republic came into being under the Park Chunghee administration, and with it ambitious plans for rapid economic development and industrialization.
The Park administration originally pursued a development strategy that relied heavily on foreign aid and grants for resources, capital, and technology. Exports were strongly encouraged as central means for securing the foreign currencies that Korea desperately needed at the time. The volume and value of exports began to rise dramatically after 1960 (Kang, 1995: 327). Between 1966 and 1970, South Korea was the fastest-growing country out of 59 similarly situated developing countries worldwide, and boasted the second highest rate of manufacturing growth, thus presenting itself as an international model of development (Kang, 1995; 322-323). The legacy of Confucianism—deference to officials—formed the core of the heavy-handed, top-down mode in which industrialization and economic development unfolded, with bureaucrats emerging as the power elite.
Certain tendencies of the bureaucratic culture during this era deserve comment. The first concerns the practices of favoritism and the spoils system. Military and educational backgrounds served as chief factors in the continuation of favoritism in the hiring practices of this era. The special appointments of former military officials began to increase in the Third Republic, with the appointments of reservist officers with military academy credentials to Grade 5 positions becoming de facto
institutionalized. Of the 89 Cabinet members who served in the Third Republic between December 1963 and December 1970, 21 officials, or 23.6 percent, had graduated from military academies (Kim et al.
, 1999: 557). The Cabinet later sought to take into account the qualifications and aptitudes of individual candidates, thus significantly reducing the number of Cabinet members with military backgrounds (Kim et al.
, 1999: 557).
Of the 13 Cabinet members with no military backgrounds, 10 had already served as vice ministers or other key administrative officials in various ministries and departments (Kim et al.
, 1999: 557). In terms of school ties, however, graduates of Seoul National University made up almost 20 percent of all government employees at Grade 5 or above as of 1966. The figure increased to 26 percent as of 1978, and to 42 percent of government employees in the rank of director general or above (Yu, 1968; Ahn, 1985; Ha, 1990: 107). The proportion of Seoul National University graduates at the level of vice minister or above made up 18 to 25 percent of Cabinet members prior to the Third Republic, but spiked to 44 percent under the Fourth Republic (Ahn, 1985; Ha, 1990: 107).
What about the attempted turn to the merit system and political neutrality? Politics continued to interfere with administration during and after the Third Republic, with politically inspired special appointments regularly being subjected to criticisms (Cho, 1980: 185, 205, and 387; Ahn, 1981: 19). Personal ties and group connections continued to play decisive roles in the status, promotion, and success of government employees (Kim, 1974: 47; Ahn, 1981: 19).
This practice and culture made the nature of superior-subordinate relationships in civil service personal rather than professional. The administrative organization with the President at its center could not evade the President’s idiosyncrasies and personal preferences (Cho, 1975: 74-75). The “mood swings” of superiors and the back-clawing tendencies of subordinates facilitated high-ranking officials’ interference with administrative tasks (Kim, 1968: 20). The policy of high economic growth that the government began to pursue rigorously in 1960 further strengthened the ties between bureaucrats and the nascent conglomerates known as chaebol
, rendering the National Assembly, political parties, and civil organizations impotent as external checks on the administration (Ahn, 1981: 20).
Women were conspicuously absent from the bureaucratic structure during this period. The paternalistic authoritarianism of Korean culture manifested itself as discrimination against women in almost all areas of society, including education and employment. With the exception of a few, the vast majority of women could not dare enter the social elite, and were forced to focus on housework only. Gender representativeness was in an especially dire state in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy.
2. Overview and Characteristics of the Hiring System
(1) Third Republic
1) Repeal of the GEA and official endorsement of the merit system
The Government Employees Act (GEA) was repealed in 1963, and a new GEA (Law 1325) was passed in its stead on April 17, 1963. Lawmakers explained the reason for repealing the earlier GEA and establishing a whole new one in its place as follows.
First, they claimed that the earlier GEA did not conform to the general ethos of modern democracy, as it still retained the pre-modern elements of feudal laws, and, moreover, that the personnel organization was too weak to guarantee the political neutrality of government employees, incapable of realizing the merit system in either recruitment or promotion, and lacked tolerance for active, efficiency-enhancing personnel policies. In their belief, a whole new legislation was needed to boost the merit system and enhance the efficiency of public administration as well as to consolidate the system of civil service.
Government employees in this new law were divided between those appointed and those who had passed civil service examinations, and divided again into five groups according to pay grades. The new GEA also stipulated a central public personnel administration.
The new GEA that came to replace the repealed one
made the merit system the official principle of government hiring. According to the new law, all appointments of government employees were to be based on verifiable evidence of merits such as test scores and performance evaluations (Article 26), and new government employees were to be hired on the basis of open and competitive tests (Article 28). The law, however, also permitted special tests for candidates to whom it would be unfair to apply the regular course of competition (Article 28). These candidates included retired government employees who wanted to reenter civil service, license holders or persons with professional work or academic experience, and so on. The examinations were to be made accessible to all citizens with the proper qualifications, and examination schedules and locations were to be decided in a manner that accorded convenience to test takers (Article 35). Moreover, job descriptions, pay details, qualifications, and the number of job vacancies had to be publicly announced well in advance of each examination (Article 37).
2) Preferential treatments for veterans and terms of temporary employment
Another important feature of the new GEA was that it gave preference to veterans (subjected to the military welfare system) in the hiring of government employees (Article 42).
In addition, the head of each agency or organization of the government was allowed to employ temporary workers for up to six months in emergency situations or for temporary jobs (Article 43). The contracts of such temporary employees, however, could not be renewed. Violations of these provisions would render the fact of employment null and void, and result in the return of already paid remunerations to the national treasury as a matter of joint responsibility of the employer and the employee. Moreover, temporary employees could not be assigned to positions normally reserved for appointment, and their work experience was not recognized as a ground for preference should they apply to become regular government employees. All these measures sought to guarantee realization of the merit system.
3) Actual hiring practice
(i) Preferences for persons with military backgrounds
Cho and Park et al.
(1987: 561-562) point out the institutionalized preference for the special appointments of graduates of the three military academies, beginning in 1977, as the most noteworthy sign of deterioration in the bureaucratic apparatus under the Fourth Republic. The National Assembly officially and repeatedly condemned the practice, but it continued nevertheless.
(ii) Government employees quota
The military government that came to power as a result of the May 16 coup
minimized the quota on government employees, ostensibly for eliminating traces of favoritism and rationalizing public administration with minimal human resources and budget (Ahn, 1991: 145-146). The quotas announced in 1961 are listed in Table 2-4.
<Table 2-4> Quotas on Government Employees, 1961
|Increase from existing quota
|Comparison to actual number
Source: Korean Revolutionary Trial History Compilation Committee, History of Revolution Trials in Korea
, vol. 1: 964, as quoted in Ahn (1991: 146).
Nevertheless, the ambitious plans for policy reforms and socioeconomic development increased the workload on bureaucrats, and more government employees had to be hired as a result (Ahn, 1991: 146). As of the end of 1961, there were 5,889 administrative government employees at Grades 1 through 3, and 113,907 at Grades 4 through 5. The figures, however, increased to 6,591 and 119,429, respectively, by the end of 1963 (Ahn, 1991: 146). Whereas the number of persons occupying high-ranking posts increased by 11.9 percent, the number of persons on the lower rungs of the hierarchy increased by a mere 4.8 percent (Ahn, 1991: 146).
Table 2-5 shows the trends in the number of persons who passed the open recruitment examinations for Grades 3 to 5 during this era. The number of government employees in the administration spiked abruptly when the economic development strategy was launched, and the rise is especially evident in the number of high-ranking government employees. These trends seem to reflect the increasing professionalization of economic administration and the obligation to hire veterans (Lee and Park, et al.
, 1969: 444).
<Table 2-5> Results of Open Recruitment Examinations Provided by the MGA
Source: MGA, as quoted in Lee and Park et al.
, 1969: 443.
(2) Fourth Republic
1) Introduction of contract government workers and the special recruitment system
Further changes were made to the GEA in 1973, reflecting the constitutional reforms of October 1972. Particularly noteworthy among the reasons given for the partial amendment of the GEA (Law 2460, amended as of February 5, 1973),
were the introduction of contract government workers and the special recruitment system, as well as the abolition of the grade-sorting system that had been practiced since 1963.
The new government contract system allowed governmental bodies to hire talented scientists, engineers, and others in Korea and abroad to work on nationally directed research and technology projects. The system also supported governmental employers in their efforts to adjust to changing social and job market conditions, and ushered in certain improvements in the processes of recruiting, testing, and deciding remunerations. The special recruitment system allowed the government to hire persons with special language skills, with diplomas from vocational high schools, or with research backgrounds in science and technology to work in remote and rural areas.
2) Statistics by employment type
Table 2-6 shows statistics on the changing numbers of government employees hired either regularly or specially, and promoted to higher ranks, in the aftermath of the constitutional reforms of 1972. Special recruitment was popular in the last days of the Fourth Republic, but began to disappear rapidly in 1982, after the Fifth Republic came to power.
<Table 2-6> Persons Hired Regularly and Specially, and Promoted, to Civil Service Grade 5
Sources: MGA, Annals of the Ministry of Government Administration
(1985) and other internal documents of the MGA, as quoted in Cho and Park et al.
Thirteen (84 percent) out of 15 in the military government (which lasted for seven months after the coup d’état
of May 16, 1961), and four (22 percent) out of 18 in the initial Third Republic Cabinet.
Some who have worked in public personnel administration during that period argue that the original GEA, passed on August 12, 1949, sought to realize the merit system. There are a few reasons for arguing thus. First, the HCSEC, responsible for deciding matters of civil service examinations, was given a considerable degree of independence. Second, the government adopted civil service examinations and other forms of screening to promote the principle of equal opportunity (Jeong Ungab, “Annotations to the Government Employees Act,” Beobjeong
vol. 5, no. 1, Jan. 1950: 10). However, for the many deficiencies of the civil service examinations tried in this era, see Park, 2001: 62-63.
Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.