Big jobs for gov’t alums thrive outside of Seoul

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Big jobs for gov’t alums thrive outside of Seoul

Favoritism for former government officials is more rampant in local state-run corporations or foundations than in the capital, an investigation by the JoongAng Ilbo found.

In Korea, it’s an entrenched practice in government-controlled organizations to place former high-ranking government officials or presidential staff members in senior positions after their retirement regardless of their suitability.

The North Gyeongsang Tourism Corporation, run by the North Gyeongsang Provincial Government, called for applications for its presidency ahead of the job’s vacancy in July 2012.

Between April 10 and 25, three candidates applied, including Kong Weon-sik, former director for political affairs at the North Gyeongsang Provincial Government.

There was a stronger candidate: A 62-year-old man who chaired the Korea Tourism Association, a private organization in Seoul. The candidate was an expert in tourism, having run a tourism company and chairing the Pacific Asia Travel Association’s Korean branch.

“I thought I was the right person to make Gyeongju City an international destination for tourism and brought my own plan to launch a duty-free center and a casino,” he said, requesting his name not be published. “Although there was a rumor that a certain person had already been picked by insiders, I believed there would be fairness in the hiring process.”

After resume screening and interviews, the corporation selected Kong for the position, highly evaluating “his administrative experience and corporate management skills.”

“It seems to me the organization only considered what it could do for a former government official,” the loser said. “I regret applying for the job.”

Park Sang-deok, CEO of the Daejeon Metropolitan Express Transit Corporation, was a former vice mayor of the Daejeon city government. He applied for his job in December 2012 and was inaugurated Jan. 1.

When he was applying for the position, there was only one rival, who reportedly came from private sector.

“When the corporation was seeking a new CEO, there was a rumor that then-deputy mayor Park had been already chosen,” an official at the Daejeon city government said. “Because of that rumor, there was only one competitor against him.”

According to a survey by the JoongAng Ilbo, the number of former government officials currently in high-ranking posts in corporations, foundations and other organizations run by local governments is 66 out of 126 posts in 47 organizations.

The rate of government retirees filling positions in state-run organizations was the highest in Daejeon. Out of the 11 executives and board members in four city-run organizations, eight are former officials from the Daejeon city government.

The situation was similar in Daegu. Out of the nine executives of city-run corporations, seven came from the Daegu city government.

In Gwangju, five out of eight executives at city-run corporations came from the city government. In Incheon, half of 18 officials did.

An official at a state-run organization who is in charge of human resources rebutted criticism of the tradition. “It is better to select a former civil servant, because he has accumulated experience in the public sector, and the work in government and the state-run organizations is very similar.”

If a government official gets a decent job at a city-run organization, he can work two or three years after retirement. Salaries are good. CEOs or presidents of city-run corporations earn about 100 million won ($89,968) annually with a three-year guarantee.

Ahead of retirement, many government officials lobby the managers of human resources departments of city-run corporations. Some even arrange interviews with the media to put off other applicants from the private sector.

Due to the enduring favoritism, there are fewer and fewer applicants from the private sector.

“For fair employment, the government should implement an ordinance to guarantee the autonomy of state-run corporations and convene a hearing for nominees,” Oh Jae-yiel, a public administration professor at Chonnam National University, said.

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