[EDITORIALS]Reform Starts at State-Run Firms

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[EDITORIALS]Reform Starts at State-Run Firms

Political appointments have been a tradition at state-run corporations and other public organizations. This practice is so widespread that the term "parachute appointment" has become a household term and a common noun in our society. We can understand that there can be personnel bottlenecks and also there can be a need, even if it is beyond the understanding of most people, to rotate positions within the public sector. But even considering that premise, it is beyond our comprehension that there has been no improvement in this mistaken custom.

Most of the recent appointments to about 10 top posts at public corporations were former politicians or officials from the military or police. The new bosses at the Environmental Management Corporation and Korea Coal Corporations are former ruling party lawmakers. The Korea National Oil Corporation, Korea Electrical Safety Corporation, Korea Appraisal Board and the Korea Airports Authority recently had former military and police officials as chief executives. The new bosses at the Korea Energy Management Corporation, Korea Labor Welfare Corporation, Korea Occupational Safety & Health Agency and Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency are reportedly former high-ranking bureaucrats. If that is a listing of top officials only, there have to be a lot more "parachute appointments" for subordinate positions.

We have a lot of public corporations and many of them will soon have new bosses. The tenures of approximately 60 executives at more than 550 are ending sometime in the first half of the year. We wonder how bad the situation is if the Minister of Planning and Budget, the top official overseeing public sector reform, must request publicly that politicians refrain from making personnel requests. The revolving door appointments must be stopped, both for the benefit of corporations themselves and for the government's own interest. Although it is not inconceivable that some of the political appointees are skilled and tested managers, many of them have neglected their job and tried instead to kowtow to those with power. And some tried to buy legitimacy by letting the labor unions have their way. The result was a combined debt of 400 trillion won ($307 billion) that stands at three times the size of the national debt, and criminal activities by employees that demonstrate the breakdown of ethical and professional responsibility.

No matter how much the government claims to be working for public sector reform and talks about making the sector leaner through ongoing restructuring, downsizing and more transparent management, all will be merely lipservice as long as there are political appointments. It is the starting point and the essence of public sector reform that the government appoint true professionals to the top management and give them full responsibility for their actions. The government has made attempts to make systematic improvements to the public sector personnel management. There is sarcastic criticism that these were covers to quell criticism. The open selection for public posts is at times considered to be "open" recruitment of acquaintances by those who leave one high-ranking position to take on another public sector job.

When personnel policy is marred by manipulation, disruptions will continue within the organization. How can such an organization undertake reform and with what hope can the staff engage in the work at hand? Above all reform, there should be the reform of personnel policies and political appointments in the public sector, and that requires a serious decision by the government, something we have not yet seen.
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