Stop the revolving door

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Stop the revolving door

The controversy over revolving door practices has once again been reignited after some cabinet minister nominees accumulated great wealth in the private sector after retiring from their government posts. They might deny any favoritism, but their hiring to high-paying large law firms or companies suggests they might have been rewarded for their connections to the government.

A cabinet minister is no simple government post. The rank carries heavy political symbolism and must draw respect and credibility from the people. But who would respect as a minister someone who sold their government experience in exchange for fat paycheck? Such a person may already be counting on an even better paying job when they finish this new stint in the country’s administration. What gives them the right to enjoy such privileges?

Some could argue that government officials are entitled to decent paying jobs after earning a meager wage for most of their career in the public sector. But that’s a selfish argument when you consider the job security and tax and pension benefits that civil servants enjoy compared to the average salary earner.

The revolving door practice is prevalent because the public sector wields too much power. The deep-seated tradition of favoritism and connections in the country also plays a part. When pushing for favorable rulings, licenses, legislation or regulations, retired bureaucrats are the best way to get inside information and exercise influence in the government. The collaboration among incumbent and former government officials and lobbyists keeps the revolving door spinning.

The government has made several attempts at stemming such practices, with little success. The Government Public Ethics Committee said in 2011 that it would disclose the new jobs of ex-government officials on its Web page, but has yet to do so.

Regulations are not going to stop the revolving door. Instead, there must be a mechanism to cut off corrupt connections. One way would be to legitimize lobbying activities. Former government officials could be hired through legitimate channels, like in the United States. Both their activities and those of incumbent officials could be better supervised this way. The moral standards of incumbent government officials need to be improved and closely monitored.

Most importantly, government officials should willingly continue to behave in an ethical manner after they retire. During an executive meeting at the ruling Saenuri Party, Chung Ui-hwa, the former vice speaker of the National Assembly, suggested that the contentious candidates return to their high-paying jobs. The nominees should take his advice if they do not want to cause problems for both the new government and themselves.

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