Watch yourself, Mr. Choi

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Watch yourself, Mr. Choi

Knowledge Economy Minister Choi Joong-kyung said that the issue of government officials getting jobs at state-run companies after retiring has “nothing to do with granting them privileges corresponding to their former posts,” adding that one or two high-ranking officials from his ministry will land jobs as the CEOs of public corporations.

His remark appears to be based on the premise that retired officials who get new jobs in the private sector are getting special favors, but that is not the case if the officials find jobs in the public sector.

His logic is not entirely wrong. The government is the owner of public companies so it can exercise its right to make appointments therein. But the officials should prove they are competent enough to take the jobs.

Choi’s remarks have only fueled the public uproar over the revolving-door appointments that have dogged the Lee Myung-bak administration since his election four years ago.

Yet it is the way Choi thinks about the issue that rings the alarm bell for us. His statement appears to be based on an outmoded way of thinking that sees top posts at state-run companies as secondary to its appointments for government posts.

This attitude will most likely lead to a loss of expertise and professionalism required for jobs at public companies. If the Lee administration wants to give its retired officials new jobs commensurate with their old jobs, it can dismiss such crucial qualifications as competence and relevance as the head of public corporations.

It is also worrisome to see other public officials who share Choi’s ideas about the appointments, because they take their new pubic jobs for granted. If the government regards new jobs in the public sector simply as a present for retired officials, reform for the sector cannot but be set aside.

The country is simmering with public outrage over the massive corruption at savings banks. Against this backdrop, it is utterly lamentable that a government minister would make such a dull remark at such a critical moment. The administration desperately needs to reflect on its bad practices in the past.

With Lee’s term in office to expire in less than two years, the second round of special appointments for public corporations is set to begin. And the competition to get a decent job at a state-run company is quickly heating up among the candidates. Choi must be more careful when he talks about the issue next time.
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