Time for us to lose the parachutes

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Time for us to lose the parachutes

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Despite pulling off Japan’s economic miracle, officials at the Ministry of Finance are considered the principal offenders of a chronic evil: Amakudari, or political appointments of retired civil servants to private corporations. The phrase, which means “descent from heaven,” is derived from the descent of the Shinto gods sent to earth from heaven.

These kinds of “parachute appointments” are also a serious problem in Korea. Of course, the problem is not limited to Korea and Japan. In the West, it is especially serious in France, where the practice is known as “pantouflage.” The term originates from “pantoufle,” or slippers, which conjures images of retired public servants moving from one company to another as if they are wandering from room to room in their slippers.

Countries in which parachute appointments are standard have a few things in common. High-ranking officials are first-class elites who passed challenging national examinations and have taken leading roles in the country’s development. They have a great deal of control over the administration, and it is easy for them to use their influence to put retirees in the agencies under their management. Naturally, the companies that deal with powerful officials find it very attractive to hire retired civil servants who still have connections to those in power.

Parachute appointments have been criticized not just for retired civil servants’ half-hearted services and fat paychecks. Rather, these people often obstruct desirable regulations. The Nobel Prize-winning economist George Stigler convincingly analyzed the mechanism in the theory of regulatory capture. The regulatory apparatus of the government, which should act in the public interest, has been abused to protect the interests of corporations because officials have been “captured” by large firms. In the course of “capturing” the agencies, the practice of scouting retired officials is widely used.

Lately, the Financial Supervisory Service, which has earned the notorious nickname of “financial mafia,” is under severe fire. Unless it ends its practice of making parachute appointments, the FSS won’t be able to reinstate its authority and honor.

The Japanese government is working to prevent Amakudari, and earlier this year, it began by installing a Fair Personnel Committee. We should follow suit and put an end to our anachronistic practice of parachute appointments.

*The writer is a senior international affairs reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Nam Jeong-ho
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