Never-ending nepotism

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Never-ending nepotism

Your birth meant everything in the hierarchical feudal days of the Joseon Dynasty. If your father occupied a high government position, you didn’t have to take a state exam to secure a public post. Crimes were also indemnified. Bad traditions tend to run deep in a society and last long. Today, having a father in high and mighty places - mostly senior government or legislative posts - could also secure a prosperous job. If he is a true heavyweight, it’s easy to use the backdoor method of landing a job. Companies always seem to have positions available for children with influential fathers.

Even the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI), the watchdog of public offices, is not free from the widespread practice of influence purchasing. It recruited four lawyers early this year and three of them were offspring of former BAI senior officials or a ruling party lawmaker. The agency insists it was a big coincidence.

But who would believe that all of the finalists out of 30 applicants in one round of hiring accidentally came from affluent families? The agency claimed it would be “unfair” to discriminate against those candidates because their fathers happened to work in high public office. But if everything was transparent and fair, why did it refuse to comply with a civilian probe? Even if its reasons were just, the agency nevertheless should have been more discreet. The BAI’s primary function is to watch over and ensure discipline in public service. Its slogan is “Just Audit, Just Nation.” It should have not taken actions that could draw suspicions in the first place.

The fact that even the BAI takes lightly its hiring practices suggests how rampant influence-peddling and backdoor placements are in Korean society. Then again, this happens all around the world - even in the United States and China. JP Morgan Chase came under federal investigation two years ago for hiring friends and family members of China’s ruling elite. Under the so-called Sons and Daughters program, the investment bank from 2006 systematically and strategically hired well-connected candidates on a separate track from ordinary applicants in China. The bank was able to land profitable deals in China in return.

Such job-selling is too tempting and works too well for business and bureaucrats to give it up voluntarily. Earlier this year, federal prosecutors expanded investigations into suspicious hiring practices in Asia to all major investment banks including Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, UBS and Arthur Andersen. The news caused a stir in Korea. The offspring of elite families that got into international banks quickly packed up and got out. Rumors were rampant about who and how they landed their banking jobs. One figure wrote an article about how the news made him feel useless because he could not do anything for his children.

Modern-day nepotism exists in corrupt and unfair societies. One must have money, a family name and power to exercise such influence. The common people can never dream of such power. If one gets through the backdoor, the father’s ego is satisfied and he is envied by the rest of the family for his power.

Rep. Yoon Hu-duk of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy was criticized for using his influence in helping his daughter land a job at LG Display. He calmly denied any wrongdoing.

LG and the BAI would have willingly complied with job pleas from powerful fathers. LG Display, with a manufacturing base in Paju, would have believed connections with a lawmaker representing the area could come in handy later. BAI officials may have wanted to sustain the practice because they too one day could need to ask their old workplace for a favor for their children. Favors in today’s society are only possible when it is a win-win deal for both parties. Because they may one day need to use their positions to ask a favor, no one is serious about toughening the law to rein in the practice.

Over one million young people are jobless in Korea. Normal fathers feel helpless as they watch their children waste their early years. They have to hang onto whatever works for their children’s sake. Yet the president and ministers naively talk about creating a fund to help jobless young people. The young are hardly to be blamed for feeling resentment towards this society.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 17, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yi Jung-jae

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