No more parachute appointments

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No more parachute appointments

Public corporations are renowned for parachuting people into executive positions as the practice has become endemic over the last three decades. The Lee Myung-bak administration is no exception and has faced much criticism for such alleged cronyism. The strong backlash against Lee’s ambitious four-rivers restoration project may partly be explained by his controversial way of making appointments. Meanwhile, President-elect Park Geun-hye’s repeated vows not to appoint figures to run state enterprises unless they have demonstrable business expertise bodes well and reflects public sentiment.

Park’s transition team, which officially kicked off yesterday, plans to make this a top priority. One of her aides said the committee is discussing ways to prevent influence-peddling from political bigwigs. Even though this is welcome news, the examples of previous administrations tend to make us more cynical. Despite issuing strong pledges to revamp the appointment system for CEOs of public companies, Lee soon lost the public’s trust by forcibly evicting executives appointed under the administration of his more liberal predecessor Roh Moo-hyun. Instead, it put people loyal to Lee in the top posts. In the second half of its term, the Lee administration could not escape being blasted for favoritism. High-profile cases include the so-called “ko-so-yeong” appointments, referring to three groups who appear to have benefited from Lee’s generosity: Graduates from Korea University; people who, like Lee, attended Somang Church; and those hailing from Yeongnam (regional name for South and North Gyeongsang provinces).

Meanwhile, public enterprises’ performances went from bad to worse, as seen by the rapid increase of their debt from 249.3 trillion won ($234 billion) in 2007 to 463.5 trillion won by the end of 2011. The Korea Water Resources Corporation and Korea Land and Housing Corporation did not help matters by making available such large funds for various national projects. To end this nefarious practice, the new administration must mend the recruitment system for heads of public entities. Despite its good intentions, the current system has failed due to a number of loopholes it left open for exploitation. No matter how noble it may seem, a system cannot work unless those who use it abide by the rules.

The Park administration must not repeat the same mistakes. It must recognize the disappointing reality and thoroughly review the system, make it more transparent by publicizing candidates’ test scores and inviting experts to make unbiased recommendations of candidates. Only then will the public’s confidence be regained.

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