Law impacting former civil servants’ job chances

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Law impacting former civil servants’ job chances

Nearly a year has passed since the Sewol ferry sank last April off Korea’s southwestern coast, leaving more than 300 passengers dead and unraveling an array of sociopolitical corruption.

President Park Geun-hye vowed to root out the nation’s bureaucratic mafia, known here as “gwanfia,” a portmanteau of the Korean word for officials, gwalyo, and mafia.

Rampant malpractice and corruption stemming from questionable decades-old connections between the shipping industry and public offices were pinpointed as core reasons for why so many high school students onboard the ship lost their lives that day.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and other government offices also faced considerable backlash when it was revealed that retired officials had gained a leg up in their posts.

Public attention shifted to the Public Service Ethics Act, which prohibits retired public servants from working in profit-making enterprises related to a ministry or agency at which they worked within the past five years or for the next two years from the start of their retirement.

But now with a revised bill with broader restrictions set to go into force next month, recent data indicates that former high-ranking government officials seeking new jobs are already finding themselves in tougher circumstances.

Between July 2014 and February, more than one out of every four retired government officials (25.3 percent) who were evaluated by a state-backed ethics committee were rejected for the post to which they applied. The corresponding number before that period, from January 2010, was just 8.4 percent.

The statistics were recently presented by lawmaker Kim Choon-jin, a member of the main opposition New Politics of Alliance for Democracy, who referenced the Ministry of Personnel Management.

Under domestic law, a civil servant grade four or higher - with grade one being the highest - must be authorized by the Government Public Ethics Committee if he or she wishes to be hired by a private enterprise of a certain size less than two years after retirement. Officials in the police, fire authority, tax office or construction fields must be screened if they are grade seven or higher.

Starting next month, former high-ranking officials will be tested if seeking a job not only with a private enterprise, but also in a general hospital or an organization dealing with public safety services, licensing or procurement. In the case of universities, candidates for any position with the exception of professorships will be assessed.

In January, Park Jeong-yeon, a former executive board member of the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, a state-backed organization that assesses health care costs and service quality, was rejected by the ethics committee.

The 61-year-old, who was eyeing a spot as an adviser at Samsung Life Insurance, lamented her denial, adding that all she wished to do was make use of her expertise and experience.

“I would accept the rejection if I was trying to be rehired at a hospital, but never did I imagine [the committee would] block my path to an insurance company,” she said.

Experts have argued that the laws surrounding the reemployment of retired senior officials fail to address the core of the issue.

“Rather than systematically setting up regulations, [the government] should basically allow reemployment when there are no interests involved, and then devise ways to restrict very specific actions,” that may end up favoring gwanfia, said Yoon Tae-beom, an administrations professor at Korea National Open University in Jung District, central Seoul.

BY LEE SANG-EON AND PARK HYUN-YOUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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