Fifth Republic, the First Part of the Sixth Republic, and the Ministry of Government Administration
1. Bureaucratic Culture and Public Personnel Administration
The military continued to reign over Korea into the Fifth Republic, until the constitutional amendment of 1987 introduced the direct presidential election system for single five-year terms. President Roh Tae-woo’s June 29 Declaration marks the birth of the Sixth Republic.
The Kim Youngsam administration (February 1993 to February 1998) that succeeded the Roh administration in the middle of the Sixth Republic is often dubbed the first “Civilian Government,” as it was the first government to be headed by an executive without a professional military record in Korea’s modern history. Kim presided over the birth of the New Democratic Liberal Party in 1990, which was a coalition of the Democratic Justice Party, the Unification Democratic Party, and the New Democratic Republican Party. Having launched his campaign as the frontrunner of the coalition in December 1992, Kim eventually succeeded in becoming the 14th President of the Republic of Korea in 1993.
Around the time of Kim’s election, Korean society was undergoing rapid diversification and pluralization. The country had an increasingly educated population, and had begun to experience the effects of industrialization in the form of the proliferation of mass media, transportation, communication, and others. Nevertheless, authoritarianism, gender discrimination, and elitism continued to define bureaucratic culture.
Favoritism and the spoils system—which emphasized military connections, university backgrounds, and regional ties—continued to characterize government hiring into the Sixth Republic. Presidents from the Third Republic until this point in time were all from the southeastern region of Korea known as Yeongnam. High-ranking officials at the vice minister level and above, as well as high-ranking bureaucrats, were overwhelmingly drawn from Yeongnam as a result. Moreover, under the Roh administration, veterans and graduates of the military academy occupied five ministerial and nine vice-ministerial positions (Park, 1995: 497). The succeeding “Civilian Government” of Kim Youngsam, however, ostensibly excluded veterans from the Cabinet, except for appointments to the Ministry of National Defense or the Veterans Welfare Administration (Park, 1995: 497).
In terms of educational background, graduates of Seoul National University made up 45 percent of high-ranking government officials at or above the level of vice minister in the early years of the Fifth Republic (1980 to 1981), and again increased from 51 to 53 percent in the “Civilian Government” (Ha, 1990: 107; Park, 1995: 497). Seoul National University graduates replaced military officials, making up as much as 60 percent of the Cabinet in the last days of the Roh administration and in the early days of the Kim administration (Lee, 1993; Ha, 1995: 1469). The proportion of Seoul National University graduates in the Cabinet grew from 30 percent in the Fourth Republic to 48 percent in the Fifth, to 52 percent in the Sixth (Kim et al.
, 1999: 615).
The makeup of the Kim Cabinet was 31.13 percent experienced bureaucrats, 20.75 percent veterans and military officials, 19.81 percent professors, 6.6 percent journalists, and 5.66 percent former National Assembly members (Kim et al.
, 1999: 615-616).
Regionalism also played a major role, as was apparent in the appointments of vice ministers and above. The proportion of Cabinet members from Yeongnam steadily grew from the days of the Third Republic onward, reaching as high as 40 percent in the early days of the Fifth Republic, while their counterparts from Honam and other regions made up only 12 to 15 percent of the Cabinet (Ahn, 1985; Ha, 1990: 109). The Kim Cabinet that led the Sixth Republic counted 33.01 percent of its members from Yeongnam (which had 29.1 percent of the total national population), and the proportion of members from Honam was also increased (an area representing 12.9 percent of the total national population) from 12.7 percent to 15.9 percent (Kim et al.
, 1999: 616). This conscious effort to reduce regionalism, however, did not last into the second and third Kim Cabinets (Park, 1995: 495-496).
In the “Civilian Government”, the proportion of ministers and vice ministers from the Daegu-Gyeongbuk region (northern part of Yeongnam) decreased, while those from Busan-Gyeongnam (southern part of Yeongnam) increased by comparison. In particular, the latter group also tended to occupy key positions in the government. In the meantime, the number of officials from Honam (southwestern part of Korea) though increased, were not appointed to key positions (Park, 1995: 495-496).
The manner in which the political neutrality of government employees was treated in the past continued into the Fifth Republic Constitution.
Although government employees’ political neutrality was stipulated in the Constitution and greatly emphasized as a formal principle of law since the Second Republic, it still remained an empty slogan. Reports from the era of the Fifth Republic still point to political neutrality as an ideal to be attained (Ahn, 1981: 19).
Scholars differ on whether or not political neutrality is something desirable or necessary in high-ranking officials. Ha (1983: 388-390), for instance, argues that requiring government employees, especially high-ranking ones, to maintain political neutrality while making important public decisions contradicts the principle of participatory democracy, and also risks turning them into “political zombies,” i.e., bureaucrats who are fundamentally unresponsive to the changing demands of the people. In order for these debates to flourish and lead to a meaningful consensus, however, Korean society still needs to become more democratic.
On the other hand, the number of female government employees began to increase rapidly in the 1980s, but the makeup of high-ranking officials was still extremely gender biased. The proportion of female government employees hired by the national government increased from 11.4 percent in 1974 to 16.2 percent 1988, while the proportion hired by local administrations soared from 4.2 percent to 14.4 percent over the same period. As of 1987, there were 4,295 women working in general positions of government service across all nine pay grades, who together made up 5.8 percent of all government employees hired. There were, however, only 36 women (0.4 percent) at the level of Grade 5 or above, including one at the director general level (Grade 3), and six at the deputy manager level (Grade 4) (Annals of the Ministry of Government Administration
, 1988; Ha, 1990: 109). The proportion of female high-ranking government employees at the level of Grade 5 or above hired by the national government increased from 0.9 percent in 1978 to 1.6 percent in 1988, while the proportion hired by local administrations dropped from 1.4 percent to 0.4 percent. The majority of women in civil service were in subordinate, technical, and junior positions in this era (Park, 1992; Ha, 1995: 1468).
2. Overview and Characteristics of the Hiring System
(1) Fifth Republic (Chun Doohwan Administration)
1) Growing emphasis on expertise and efficiency
After coming to power, the Chun Doohwan administration partially amended the GEA (Law 3447) on April 20, 1981, placing a greater emphasis on the merit system, expertise, and efficiency of public administration and personnel management. It was also the Chun administration that changed the number of levels in the government employee hierarchy from five to nine.
The written reasons for amendment emphasize the need to ensure fair promotions and appointments on the basis of the merit system, while also establishing a new system for enhancing the expertise and efficiency of public administration and strengthening the social status of hardworking government employees. The amended law, in other words, purported to shape and establish a civil service system suited to Korean conditions. The new law thus divided the jobs in Korean civil service between those requiring experience within public administration and those requiring experience outside it. The five-grade system was further specified into a nine-grade one. It was no longer possible for the government to remove government employees from their positions for reasons of incompetence. Furthermore, government employees could not stay removed from their positions for longer than three months; they had to either be reposted elsewhere or be discharged from their duties upon a disciplinary committee resolution. A complaint handling system was introduced, and the discipline of government employees was now to be reviewed and decided by the disciplinary committees of the respective organizations in which they worked. There were five types of disciplinary actions newly defined: expulsion, dismissal, suspension, pay reduction, and censure.
2) Decreasing the number of government employees
The emphasis on security and economic development as well as on the professionalism and effectiveness of government employees under the pre-Chun administrations served to increase the number of government employees abruptly, especially in the high ranks (Ahn, 1991: 384). In an effort to improve the efficiency of government spending and minimize administrative expenses and cost, and thereby realize the “small government” ideal, the Chun administration laid off government employees repeatedly,
and thus successfully slowed down the rate at which the bureaucratic apparatus expanded (Ahn, 1991: 384). By the end of 1985, after a series of structural and organizational readjustments, the total quota on government employees was brought down to 670,637, while 660,032 continued to work in administrative bodies, and 204,613 government employees (including 88,307 nationally hired and 116,306 locally hired) continued to work in other parts of the government (Ahn, 1991: 384-385).
(2) Sixth Republic and the Roh Taewoo Administration
The Roh administration partially amended the GEA (Law 4017) on August 5, 1988. The amended GEA, in conformity to the 10th Constitutional Amendment of October 1987, specified the standing judges and the secretary general of the Constitutional Court as government employees with specialized expertise and in political service. The new supplementary provisions to the GEA, concerning the Constitutional Court,
stipulated the effective date of the new provisions.
Aside from these, the Roh administration did not make many changes to the existing public personnel administration system.
(3) Sixth Republic and the Kim Youngsam Administration (1993-1997)
The GEA, again partially amended (now Law 4829) on December 22, 1994,
sought to foster a hardworking atmosphere in the bureaucracy by improving the officer promotion examination system; providing bonuses for government employees with good working records; allowing government employees to take childcare or family-related leaves to better balance their work and family life; and by making it more difficult to remove government employees from their posts. These were all part of efforts to protect the social status, rights, and interests of government employees.
Another partial amendment to the GEA (Law 5425) on December 13, 1997,
moreover, addressed the need to enhance the competitiveness and professionalism of civil service by introducing the hiring of civilian experts for public duty, expanding the scope of government employees hired for special duties, and improving the overall system for hiring expert human resources. These changes helped to ensure greater degrees of expertise and flexibility in the bureaucratic organization.
Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution of the Fifth Republic states: “The status and political neutrality of government employees shall be guaranteed according to applicable laws” (Ahn, 1981: 18).
The early administrations made significant cuts to the number of government employees (Ahn, 1991: 384):
- The Liberal Party administration laid off 13,121 government employees in October 1958, or 5.34 percent of the 245,491 government employees working at that time.
- The May 16 Military Government disqualified draft evaders, men who had not completed army service, wrongdoers, and people with political experiences from remaining in or entering civil service.
- At the end of August 1961, 35,767 government employees were dismissed, and more government employees continued to be laid off for the next 12 months (see The Dong-a Ilbo, November 3, 1981).
The Constitutional Court Act (Law 4017, August 5, 1988) stipulates the following terms. (i) The Constitutional Court shall exercise jurisdiction over the constitutionality of legislations, impeachment trials, trials over the dismissal of political parties, jurisdictional disputes, and constitutional appeals. (ii) The Court shall be comprised of nine justices, each of whom has served in the capacity of judge, prosecutor, or lawyer for 15 years or longer prior to being appointed to the bench and is aged 40 years or older at the time of the nomination. (iii) While the President holds the exclusive authority to appoint these justices, three must be nominated by the National Assembly and another three by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Korea. The President of the Constitutional Court must be the justice approved by the National Assembly. (iv) The Court’s decision shall be binding upon all courts of law, agencies of the national government, and local government organizations. A law repealed as unconstitutional shall lose its effect on the day the Constitutional Court hands down its decision. The Court’s decision of unconstitutionality shall be applied retroactively to provisions of criminal punishment.
Article 1 of the Supplementary Provisions to the Constitutional Court Act (Law 4017, August 5, 1988) states that the Act shall be effective as of September 1, 1988.
The GEA (Law 4763), amended earlier in July 1994, allowed governmental bodies to hire professionals as government employees and appoint multiple professionals to government committees as means to enhance the expertise of legislative assistance and the rationality of the MGA.
The GEA (Law 5153) was amended again on August 8, 1996 to reflect the newly founded Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and other changes made to the Government Organization Act.
Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.