Rooting out privileges

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Rooting out privileges

The chronic abuse of power by granting privileges to retired officials does not occur in the realm of the central government only. It’s also a prevalent practice in local governments and organizations under their control.

The Seoul Development Institute, a research arm funded by the city government, turned out to have hired former Seoul city officials as senior visiting researchers and paid them tens of millions of won even without any research results in what amounts to a sheer boondoggle for retired officials.

We are dumbfounded that Seoul has engaged in such a shameful practice without any sense of guilt. From 2000 to 2010, 13 officials signed contracts with the SDI for payments of 45.31 million won ($41,900) a year or in some cases 55 million won for 10 months after retiring from city government.

None of them, however, produced any accomplishments. That would not have occurred in the private sector. More embarrassing is the SDI president’s explanation: “Taking advantage of former officials’ expertise in the city administration is as important as their research activities,” he said. Seoul may want to excuse itself by saying that it was a small token of appreciation for the officials’ work through the years. But the city is not a fraternal society charged with taking care of its members’ fortunes. It’s a local government run on the citizens’ taxes. This is nothing less than the city government’s dereliction of its duty. President Lee Myung-bak, who served as Seoul mayor, said last Friday that granting such generous sinecures is the equivalent of giving a second round of favors to officials who already enjoyed prestige and power. He said the practice runs counter to the spirit of a fair society.

The case of the SDI is the tip of the iceberg. According to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, 95 out of 127 public corporations in local areas were run by former local officials or politicians. Half of all employees at Seoul Metro and the Urban Development Corporation came from local governments.

Needless to say, that will lead to mismanagement and wasting of people’s tax money when officials without professional management knowhow take jobs at public companies. The local governments’ practice of providing hundreds of millions won for a fraternal association of former local officials should be stopped. Unless the central government roots out such a bad practice so deeply embedded in local regions, we have a long way to go before achieving the goal of a fair society.
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