Ending parachute appointments

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Ending parachute appointments

Sohn Hae-yong
The author is the head of economic policy team at the JoongAng Ilbo.


The stunning insults hurled by foul-mouthed Kim Woo-nam, CEO of the Korea Racing Authority (KRA), at people around him defy common sense. The evidence recently obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo from the labor union of the sole horse-racing operator in Korea shows it all. To Kim, a former three-term lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), cursing seems to be second nature. He curses his aides just because they didn’t ask him what food he didn’t like before lunch or simply because his subordinates came into his room to report while he’s busy. Dropping F-bombs was just the tip of an iceberg filled of various types of ingenious maledictions. It is difficult to go deeper into the amazing world of imprecation.

The bigger problem is the way he thinks. Kim’s swear words actually were triggered by his attempt to hire one of his former aides in the National Assembly as his chief secretary in the KRA despite the Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission’s recommendations to stop such off-track recruitment. After his botched attempt, Kim commissioned the former aide to work as his advisor with an annual pay of 84 million won ($75,200) and ordered his subordinates to review the introduction of open recruitment for certain jobs in the corporation. Kim regarded major posts in the public entity simply as “trophies” of election victory.

As an opposition lawmaker, he fiercely criticized chronic parachute appointments in the KRA during the conservative administrations. But since he became CEO of the horse-racing operator in February, he has followed his predecessors in the conservative administrations.

The protagonist of a similar case is Kim Man-soo, the president of KS Dream — a subsidiary of the Korea Securities Depository — who is being condemned for his arrogance. In the mid-2000s, he stepped down as a secretary for President Roh Moo-hyun after violating a presidential ban on golfing for public officials. But after moving to a public entity as an auditor, he was criticized for his inappropriate actions again during work hours. After idling for a while, he shocked officialdom yet again after becoming CEO of KS Dream with an annual pay of 180 million won — five time more than the average salary of its workers.

Since last July when he landed the job as president of KS Dream, he has refused to submit any required documents to the legislature for more than six months. An opposition lawmaker attacked Kim for not presenting any records of how he spent his corporate card for travel and other activities during a legislative audit of the government last September.

All the noise from the Moon Jae-in administration’s never-ending parachute appointments at public corporations will continue until after Moon’s term is over in May 2022. As public corporation heads are guaranteed their three-year tenure, they can stay in office for two more years after a new administration is launched next year. The liberal administration aims to use their three-year term as a sort of “safety valve” for the next administration — conservative or liberal — in a contradictory way. Shortly after winning the presidential election in 2017, the new environment minister forced heads of public corporations under her jurisdiction to resign without proper reasons as they were appointed by the previous conservative administration.

State-run research institutes are no exception. Prof. Hong Jang-pyo — President Moon’s former senior secretary for economic affairs — will most likely be appointed head of the Korea Development Institute (KDI). His taking the helm of the government-run think tank not only helps justify the liberal administration’s dangerous “cart before the horse” experiments, but also hurts the integrity and independence of academic research through political considerations. Veteran scholars who worked as senior researchers for the KDI complained that if the designer of the nonsensical policy is appointed head of the most prestigious economic institute in Korea, it will be a “laughing stock.”

Parachute appointments deal a critical blow to the country as they destroy the foundations of national trust and worsen the quality of public services, as clearly seen in the shocking land speculation by employees of Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) through inside information. In fact, whenever the administration changed, parachute appointments repeated. The self-touted clean administration defined parachute appointments as “accumulated evils of the past,” but we are embarrassed to see their betrayal.

I hope the administration and DP consider the idea of legislating a ban on parachute appointments. They can, for instance, stipulate the requirements for appointing CEOs, board members and auditors of public corporations and make public the composition of a committee to recommend candidates for board members. They also can forbid anyone who has worked for a political party or a presidential campaign from applying for heads of public companies for a certain period of time. That could help Moon to at least pretend to work to realize his campaign promise to create a society where “opportunities are equal, the process is fair, and results are just.”
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