Power abhors a vacuum

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Power abhors a vacuum

The public sector is suffering from power vacuums because chief executives are increasingly jittery about their positions in the new administration. One CEO at a public enterprise, who was close to former President Lee Myung-bak, neglected his work from the day President Park Geun-hye was elected until his recent retirement. He posed as a mere figurehead and deferred making any key decisions.

It is hard to blame them. People in top posts in the public sector are customarily replaced by a new government. The people who were appointed by the last administration can hardly work rigorously under a new government. Moreover, their employees lose faith in them. Government officials complain that even executive-level employees at public companies drag their feet on projects that could later cause problems. Petitions mount against the incumbent CEOs, and applicants for their jobs are busy lobbying to get them.

Any company can suffer if a management vacuum is prolonged. The losses would be the taxpayers’ if public companies’ profitability is hurt because of the power vacuum. It has happened in every administration during the transitional period and early stage of government. But that does not excuse the incumbent government for neglecting the ongoing power vacuum. Many public companies are in bad or shaky financial states. Their profitability has been eroded by inefficient and even reckless managements. The combined debts of public enterprises amounted to near 500 trillion won ($443.7 billion) last year, doubling over the last five years and exceeding the total national liabilities of 445 trillion won.

The government must decide fast whether to replace or retain the current CEOs of public institutions. If it wants to replace them because they were revolving-door beneficiaries or incompetent in management, they must act fast. If it is satisfied with the current CEOs in the public sector, it should tell them so.

The government must also respect and allow independent recruitment boards to do their job of selecting suitable candidates for the posts through objective and fair procedures. The president must make this clear. We don’t want to see names of politicians, professors and former bureaucrats who served on her election campaign popping up here and there even before the nomination procedures are completed.
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