In 2010, 369,669 civil servants were in the employ of the Republic of China. These government employees worked at the central and local government level, for state-run corporations, at health care institutes and the nation’s public schools. To qualify for their positions, the vast majority of them had to pass an open and competitive civil service exam administered by the Examination Yuan, one of the five branches of government in the ROC. Upon passing the exam and completing a rigorous training course, they became civil servants, with their status protected by law as long as they obey the civil service code of conduct.
Entering the civil service system, which is so intimately related to legal regulations and paper work, might seem like a rather humdrum career for young people. Indeed, it used to be thought that being a civil servant was far less exciting than working in the private sector, and not as respectable as doing scientific research. Many college graduates paid little attention to the profession; they did not know what it involved, or what kind of a career path it offered to someone who would be working in it for 20 or 30 years.
But the situation has changed recently. According to statistics from the Examination Yuan, the number of people registering to take the July civil service exam, the largest written test in Taiwan, reached a record high in 2010, and again in 2011. The phenomenon is due not only to the relatively high unemployment rate of the last three years, but also to the increasingly acknowledged fact that civil servants are a vital asset in moving the nation forward.
“To have a capable government at the helm steering the nation through challenges and hardships, we need a team of outstanding civil servants,” said ROC President Ma Ying-jeou in his 2009 New Year’s Day celebratory message. He added that the Examination Yuan should institute a national training college responsible for the testing and training of civil servants.
At the president’s request, the National Academy of Civil Service was established in Taipei March 26, 2010, taking the place of the National Civil Service Institute. Two affiliated departments were set up at the same time, namely the Assessment and Development Center, and the Academic Exchange and Cooperation Division. In addition, a central Taiwan training center was put in place to serve those far from Taipei. “The upgrade represents the government’s determination to raise the caliber of civil servants,” said Tsai Bih-hwang, president of the NACS, in a Nov. 14 interview with Taiwan Today.
To do so, Tsai said, the NACS offers a wide range of training programs, including orientation classes for new staff; a lifelong learning program; a management training course for senior civil servants; and a set of administrative neutrality curricula for all governmental officials, including contractual and part-time employees.
Civil servants in the ROC government are categorized into three types: those who implement policy, managers, and those who formulate strategy—with the three groups respectively making up 41 percent, 54 percent and 5 percent of the total.
The NACS trains more than 4,000 new recruits every year, all of whom are at either the implementation or management level. “Passing the Examination Yuan’s tests grants trainees a ticket to the NACS, but to receive Executive Yuan certification, they still have to learn many lessons here,” Tsai said.
These entry-level lessons, as listed in the syllabuses provided by the NACS, include civil ethics, document processing, basic legal concepts and pressure management. “Trainees also have to participate in various discussions, group activities, and to give presentations on a variety of topics. The training program lasts between three and five weeks. The trainees will be announced as civil servants only if they have met all of our requirements,” Tsai said.
For senior or high-ranking officials, the NACS focuses on developing their leadership and policy analysis skills, as well as the ability to convey a vision to their subordinates. “We are also adding change management and interdepartment communication topics to the school,” Tsai said.
During a recent management development workshop, he noted, a group of division directors coming from different backgrounds were asked to reach consensus on how to allocate staff and share space in a new building. “Clearly they had some difficulties, but the progress helped them become more creative and get rid of more old-fashioned mindsets.”
Not all civil servants are trained by the NACS, however. For example, the government has designated the Training Center for Judges and Prosecutors to train newly recruited judges. And police investigators have to study for one year at the Law Enforcement Academy under the Ministry of Justice, to familiarize themselves with forensic science and knowledge of firearms. The Foreign Service Institute under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for training young diplomats.
Besides its intensive training courses, the NACS also promotes lifelong learning among civil servants. Its predecessor launched a book-of-the-month club reading activity in 2004, a policy the NACS has continued. The types of books read cover an enormous range of topics, from aesthetics to charismatic leadership, from philosophy to Taiwanese history. As part of the program, civil servants are encouraged to write book reviews or join book clubs. To date, about 83 percent of all civil servants have participated in the book-of-the-month club at one time or another, according to NACS estimates.
Tsai noted that the school is also active in spreading e-learning resources. “We signed a cooperation agreement with the National Central Library in March, which not only helps our trainees borrow books more easily, but also enables civil servants nationwide to download a list of NACS publications via the library’s e-book portal,” Tsai said.
Learning from other academies overseas to perfect the training framework is a new mission of the NACS. The efforts yielded dividends Oct. 19, when a memorandum of understanding was inked between the NACS and the National School of Public Administration of Poland (KSAP). According to the memorandum, the two schools agreed to enhance student exchanges, provide international classes to each other, and deepen co-development in the field of public administration research.
In an interview a day after the signing ceremony, KSAP Director Jacek Czeputowicz told Taiwan Today he expects the partnership to increase the capabilities of Polish civil servants by providing them with chances to communicate with foreigners and giving them deeper insights into international relationships.
He also noted that Taiwan and Poland share a similar history, in that both nations made the transition from authoritarianism to democracy in the 1980s. Poland’s experience with dictatorship makes its citizens all the more aware that “the value of administrative neutrality should be stressed,” Czeputowicz said.
The importance of having an independent civil service sector is one that many people in Taiwan have also taken to heart. In 2009, the Legislative Yuan passed an act stipulating that civil servants are forbidden from taking part in election campaigns during working hours, or taking advantage of their positions to support or oppose any political party.
“Promoting administrative impartiality is what the NACS strives for,” Tsai said, adding that the school has launched a series of forums, study groups, and special and online classes on neutrality since 2010. “Here we can see why the NACS matters—it reports to the Examination Yuan, and therefore can shelter itself from the sway of the Cabinet, which controls the Executive Yuan at most. So our classes are truly politically neutral,” Tsai said.
Asked about the future, Tsai said much work remains to be done. “It will take time, but the NACS will never stop in its mission to produce the best civil servants possible,” he said. (HZW)