A viewpoint on ‘parachuting’The government has finally embarked on the long-delayed appointments for public and state-run institutions, tackling the bottleneck in senior-level recruitment in the public sector. Many in the ruling Saenuri Party have been gazing anxiously into their phones, waiting for a call. How agonizing the waiting - since the December presidential election - has been for the hopefuls. Many secretly had been counting on being rewarded for their contribution to the last campaign. Helping the ruling party keep its power in a close race, more than a few had been waiting to cash in on their contributions in one way or another.
The Saenuri Party reportedly handed in a list of names to the presidential office. Revolving-door and loyalty appointments have been customary in every administration, but this time the ruling party made it formal by drawing up a list. The tradition of golden parachutes, ensuring comfortable and high-paying executive jobs in the public sector, may have evolved over time. Bigwigs and key figures in campaigns must be happy to have their names on the list.
But we are appalled by the blatant nature of trading loyalty to the president for executive seats in the public sector. Does the ruling party want to turn private appointments into a public show? Parachutes should land quietly. But now it has become an exhibitionist showcase. The presidential office now has less room to make prudent choices due to all the publicity and interest. The union sector is closely watching with its protest statements and banners at the ready.
Many Saenuri Party members unabashedly complain that they resent not being properly compensated and warn of an uprising if they are neglected. If they had been genuine in their support for the president, they would not speak such strong words so easily. They are being demanding because they had ulterior motives behind their campaigning. To some, service toward the Park Geun-hye camp was basically an investment for lucrative executive seats.
Public-sector posts should not be treated as meals to feed prestige-hungry politicians. The last conservative government under President Lee Myung-bak lost public favor largely because of its brazen favoritism. If a preferred figure did not make a candidate list, the government forced the position to be reposted. If that person did not get the seat, it sent auditors to investigate the public company. Some chief executives had to hear humiliating words from the political bigwigs that they could immediately lose their seats if they did not obey. Is the Saenuri Party going back to its old habits?
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am not saying the tradition of gratuitous appointments should be entirely thrown out. It is human nature to repay supporters for their service and contributions to a campaign. Otherwise, who would earnestly help out in the elections? It is also easier to run a government when people with the same political values and compatibility are seated in the public sector. Talent can be borrowed but not confidence. Work can be done more efficiently among birds of the same flock. It is the merit of a parachute army. We would have seen the same phenomenon if the Democratic Party had won governing power. It is more or less the same in any administration.
But the president nevertheless needs to be prudent and judicious in ordering the locations where those parachutes land. She should discern posts that require people with expertise and management aptitude, or a reasonable sense of balance or reform drive. The appointments in the public sector would be half-successful if no-parachute-landing zones were designated. It can work if the president exercises reason and restraint.
President Park earlier declared that there would no longer be golden parachutes. But it remains unclear if she can keep that promise. The Saenuri Party has thrust a list of names on her lap. It would take quite an act of will for Park to ignore it.
The presidential office cites common values in governance and expertise as its guides to public-sector appointments. But there are many who would confidently raise their hands and claim that they entirely conform to the values and philosophy of the president and her government - people who can tailor their values to any government. Bureaucrats are able to metamorphose and adapt. Max Weber once said that bureaucrats can offer the same efficient service to revolutionaries and occupation forces. That is why public-sector posts are dominated by politicians and bureaucrats.
Those who are eagerly hoping to claim executive seats in the public sector should remember that their time in office is limited. They, too, must move toward the exit when their time comes. The outgoing should not be too resentful and the incoming should not be too greedy.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nahm Yoon-ho