New civil service rules are causing anxietyMr. Kim, a senior public official who works at the government complex in Sejong City, recently canceled a lunch appointment with a retired colleague scheduled for this week, concerned by revisions to the code of conduct for civil servants.
Under the new Code of Conduct for Public Officials implemented from Monday, officials are required to report to authorities all personal meetings with retired officials.
It slipped Kim’s mind that the revised code had gone into effect this week, and he had forgotten to report to his superior beforehand of a lunch meeting with his former senior colleague.
“Because it was already scheduled, I contemplated going ahead with the meeting, but because this is the beginning of the implementation of the new system, I thought it was best to exercise caution and asked my former senior colleague for his understanding,” Kim said.
Public officials are anxious about the implementation of the new code of conduct, determined not to be caught violating it and being made an unlucky example. The new code has been circulated across various branches of the government, and public officials have been warned beforehand of the changes to avoid being made an example and face strict penalties.
While violators of the code of conduct do not face criminal punishment, they could face various disciplinary actions for public officials. This can range from being reprimanded, light penalties to severe punishment including getting discharged.
The code of conduct was first established on May 19, 2003, with the purpose of prescribing standards of conduct for public officials as set by the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission.
This revision is the tenth to the code. The Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, which oversees the antigraft law for public officials, tightened the code following various scandals last year involving hiring practices in public institutions, commanding officers’ abuse of soldiers assigned to their residences and other civil servants abusing their status or authority for their own interests.
The new code of conduct forbids public officials from illegally soliciting civilians by exerting their authority or influence, and it also prohibits them from ordering their junior colleagues or related agencies to do personal tasks for them.
They are required to report to the head of their agency if they are assigned to a project related to a company linked to themselves or their relatives and submit a record of their activities in the civilian sector for the past three years when appointed to a senior position. They are banned from acts seeking profit such as giving counsel to civilian companies related to their duties.
They are also prohibited from hiring family members of public officials in their agencies or affiliated agencies, and regulations have been established to report monetary or asset transactions between public officials, their family members and those related to their duties.
However, public officials react most sensitively to the clause which restricts personal get-togethers with former senior colleagues.
Under the code of conduct, a public official cannot play golf, travel or engage in other leisure activities and personal meetings with a former colleague who has been retired for less than two years without reporting it to the chief of their agency. The regulation is meant to prevent retired public officials from being granted privileges as well as possible collusion.
“In the case of retired senior colleagues,” an official from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance said, “even if it is not voluntarily, there are many cases when we bump into them in situations such as at drinking meetings, so I think we have to pay extra attention to this.”
Some are expressing disgruntlement with that revision, with one public official who works at the government complex in Sejong asking, “Isn’t it too extreme to regulate and prohibit meetings with someone who I am personally friendly with? I don’t plan to meet with my retired senior colleagues for the time being, but I am worried that our relations will become estranged.”
Some, however, welcomed the change as an excuse to evade awkward encounters.
“I have senior colleagues who went to private companies or law firms, and they ask to meet and it’s awkward,” said another official. “In the future, I will be able to refer to the code of conduct.”
BY PARK JIN-SEOK SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]