The number of public servants has exceeded the 1 million mark due mainly to the incumbent administration’s policy of recruiting more police officers, firefighters, teachers and social welfare officials.
According to data recently released by the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the number of employees on the payroll of central and regional governments stood at 1,006,474 as of last June, representing a 4.5 percent increase over the previous five years. The figure is expected to continue to rise as the administration of President Park Geun-hye plans to hire an additional 4,000 police officers and 1,177 social welfare workers this year.
If necessary, more civil servants may be recruited. But a careful and thorough review should be made based on the long-term forecast for public service demand. New recruitments must be preceded by efforts to reduce the number of officials in the sectors whose services have become less necessary and, if possible, transfer them to fields that are understaffed. It is absurd that several welfare officials have committed suicide in recent years under the pressure of mounting workloads, while many local administrations have increased their number of employees despite a continuous population decline in their districts.
Some argue that the scale of the nation’s civil service is still insufficient, citing the 6.5 percent ratio of public employees to economically active citizens, which is far below the 15.5 percent average of the 34 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This argument, however, hardly sounds persuasive to taxpayers, who have to pay 30 trillion won ($28.1 billion) to fill the deficit of the public official pension scheme during Park’s five-year term, which ends in February 2018. Critics also note that the actual number of employees in the public sector amounts to nearly 1.4 million.
It is easy to add public servants, but it is extremely difficult to scale down the civil service, as proved by the failure of the previous administration under President Lee Myung-bak to carry through its initial downsizing plan. Slimming down the government workforce is apparently not on the priority list of the Park administration. It is urged to better serve the interests of ordinary citizens by placing a proper cap on the public service.