9 of 10 officials get plush private-sector landings

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9 of 10 officials get plush private-sector landings

The world of government officials in Korea is so closed that lobbying and corruption are becoming rampant, according to a lawmaker’s analysis that found about 93 percent of 1,362 high-ranking former government officials have been employed by the private sector since 2009.

In Korea, when retired public servants want to work, they have to get approval from the Government Public Ethics Committee.

Areas of re-employment for the former senior government officials ranged from the financial sector to public relations.

Saenuri Party lawmaker Kim Jin-tae found there were a number of former senior officials who got jobs at conglomerates like Samsung, Hyundai and SK.

The most popular destination for the former officials was Samsung. Over the past four years, 118 received positions with the country’s largest family-run business. They prefer to work at affiliates of Samsung instead of at headquarters, since they get less attention while still being treated well, Kim found.

Those who were in charge of auditing at government branches typically got auditor positions at top financial companies or commercial banks. Some of them also became advisers for law firms.

Korea Development Institute, the state-run economic think tank, criticized the rampant practice of the private sector re-employing retired government officials, saying it encourages illegal lobbying activities and corruption.

The institute said there needs to be an overhaul in the public sector’s exclusive organizational structure.

Although the report said such reemployment does not need to be banned, there should be fundamental measures in place to prevent increases in lobbying.

“The recent scandals in the nuclear power plant industry and collapse of savings banks were caused largely by to illegal lobbying activities by former government officials,” said Kim Jae-hoon, a research fellow at the institute. “The exclusive organizational structure and intimate relationships between former and incumbent government officials are major culprits.”

In advanced countries, employment of former public servants in the private sector has been quite open since the 1980s.

The Korean practice of employing former public officials is considered closed compared to other OCED member countries, the report showed. On a scale of zero to one, Korea got 0.392, lower than the OCED average of 0.478. The closer the index is to zero, the more exclusive is a country’s public sector.

“Because we have a state examination to become government officials, which is quite hard for ordinary people, those who have passed the exam have the so-called ‘gosi pride,’” said a senior official at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, a top government agency. “Due to our pride, it is somewhat difficult for people from the private sector to get along with us even if we choose to work in the public sector.”

Since 2000, the government has opened 20 percent of senior official spots to the private sector in an attempt to be more inclusive. But experts from the private sector often refuse to enter the public sector because of lower salaries.

Some experts say it is not fair to criticize former government officials who are looking for jobs to make ends meet after early retirement.

“The government would need to set specific guidelines to reduce conflicts of interest between individual government officials, who have the right to have another job to make a living, and the government side that prioritizes public interest and restraint from having connections with the private sector,” said Kim Geun-se, a public administration professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

BY SONG SU-HYUN, KIM KYUNG-HEE [ssh@joongang.co.kr]
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