Persistent parachutes

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Persistent parachutes

The parachute appointment system lives on, giving cushy retirement jobs to the well connected.

According to data that Kim Hae-young of the Minjoo Party obtained from the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) from 2012 to 2016, of 20 officials of fourth-grade rank or higher retiring from the antirust agency, 17 got jobs at large companies or law firms. They bypassed the ethics code banning government officials from taking jobs at these firms in the three years after resigning from the government by getting prior approval from the Government Public Ethics Committee.

Law firms have long snapped up retiring FTC officials. There are over 40 working in the nation’s six largest law firms. The agency came under fire because six out of seven deputy FTC chiefs were found working in large law firms a few years ago.

Since the Sewol ferry disaster, which owed a lot to collusion between bureaucrats and businesses, President Park Geun-hye vowed to root out the parachute appointments. The National Assembly revised the ethics law to toughen regulations on post-retirement job placements.

But 16 of 17 who applied for rehiring were easily endorsed by the ethics committee. All 20 retirees got a new job within a year after retirement. One was back to work in just a month. The landing space for parachutes has simply gotten larger.

Big companies and law firms court FTC veterans because they do a good job lobbying against regulations on large companies. The primary role of the antitrust agency is to keep watch on unfair practices and slap fines or other punitive actions on misbehaving companies. It imposed billions of won in fines on ramyeon manufacturers and builders involved in the four-rivers restoration project for price-rigging. If caught, a company can be in real trouble.

The agency had to refund 312.6 billion won ($266.5 million) last year in excessive fines after losing lawsuits, up sharply from 11.1 billion won in 2011. Some speculate the agency overstates fines on purpose to give more work to former colleagues who have become lobbyists.
The bureaucratic community will lose the public’s confidence if it keeps up such shady connections with the private sector. The review process by the ethics committee must be made public, and anyone who does favors for former colleagues must be punished. The restrictions on hiring former government retirees should be toughened, and exceptions should be limited.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 28, Page 30

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