Wiping out the ‘gwanfia’

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Wiping out the ‘gwanfia’

Skepticism mounted about the government’s will to uproot corrupt connections between government officials and businesses despite strongly worded promises from President Park Geun-hye that her administration will wipe out “gwanfia.” The civil service office has earned the disgraceful moniker - a portmanteau of the Korean word for bureaucrat and the word “mafia” - after the perennial collusion between the government and business sector was put back into the spotlight as a result of the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry and the death of hundreds of young students onboard.

The tradition of cozy relationships and post-retirement arrangements in the old-boys network of businessmen and officials again proved to be well maintained, despite all the talk of reform and reshuffles. The government’s public ethics committee recently gave the go-ahead for a retired senior official of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to move to a comfortable position at the country’s largest steelmaker, Posco. The endorsement came amid public fury about regulatory oversight, collusion and malpractice stemming from revolving-door placements and lucrative retirement arrangements in the private sector in return for favoritism and lax administrative regulations and licensing. Of the 11 committee members, eight were present and half of them endorsed the move. To prevent the placement, at least five had to oppose. The retired government official was able to take the position because of the vote.

Under the government employees’ ethics law, any official who has a ranking of higher than four must be approved by the committee in order to take a job at a private enterprise within two years of retirement. A senior official cannot move to the same field of work in the private sector that he or she was involved in during his or her years of public service within five years of retirement. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration said the official who was appointed had not been involved in any line of work related to Posco from 2009 to April when he retired.

The committee’s activities reviewing the hiring of retired government employees falls short of public expectations. Of 1,819 senior officials who applied for reviews of their new private-sector job offers from 2008 to April, only 134 cases, or 7.4 percent, were rejected. This can hardly be described as stringent. The government plans to strengthen regulations on work relevance and increase the scope of review, but tougher regulations will be of no use if they aren’t strictly enforced. The committee must be more meticulous in its evaluation. Members of the ethics committee and details of their reviews are unknown. Their activities should be made more transparent to appease public doubts.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 4, Page 26

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