[EDITORIALS]A Big Step and a Fair One, Too

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[EDITORIALS]A Big Step and a Fair One, Too

The government's ethics committee on public servants blocked the employment of a high-ranking Financial Supervisory Service official at a private securities company, in the first such move ever in Korea. Public servants no doubt have the right to worry about making a living after retirement from the public sector, and they may question the fairness of the move since previous such appointments were left standing. They may also question the fairness of prohibiting former public officials from obtaining a certain job, when, with talent and ability, other professionals find top employment with generous compensation packages. But we believe the decision was right.

When the Public Service Ethics Act was enacted in 1981, the law was intended to discourage public officials from amassing wealth unethically and to ensure fairness in how they served the public. The law prohibits a public official from obtaining employment for a period of two years in an area directly related to the last three years of public service. Exceptions are allowed with the approval of the government's ethics committee. But the committee, with its sweeping authority and by broadly interpreting the exclusion provision, had never rejected a petition for an exception. So it has become customary practice for officials leaving the public sector to accept jobs in the private sector, and the competency of the ministers or agency heads were even judged in terms of how many private sector jobs they were able to secure for their subordinates.

Personnel policy in the public sector is no doubt an important issue. The recent suggestion by mid-level Fair Trade Commission officials calling for the retirement of their superiors show the seriousness of promotion bottlenecks in the public sector. But the practice would seem unfair in the eyes of those in the private sector. Personal relationships based on place of origin or school and the influence peddling based on those relationships are still a serious problem in our society. Former public officials working in the private sector can deepen the undue influence of the public sector in our economy. So, although the latest move can have the effect of limiting the range of work talented and able former public servants can seek, it is a step necessary until we have a more mature employment practice. We hope the ethics committee will persist and even sever the chain of political appointments in public corporations.
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