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[Editorial] End spoils system

Even toward end of presidency, using appointments as a reward still rampant

Political appointments to reward those who were helpful to the current administration are going too far as Moon Jae-in’s presidency nears its end.

As a matter of fact, no administration has been completely free from the practice of using appointments as a reward for loyalty. The spoils system is an undesirable custom, but realistically, it is a hard one to eradicate. Nonetheless, past governments have shown as much restraint as possible from filling high-level posts with their supporters, particularly when they were at the end of their presidencies. Existing officials were left acting temporarily as deputies until the new government took office. This was a move taken in consideration of the next government’s personnel authority.

But the Moon administration appears to ignore the custom. It assigned supporters to important posts so that they can work even after the Moon presidency ends. This could be a good thing if they have expertise in related fields, even if they are appointed as a reward, but that is far from the case.

This deplorable practice stands out in recent appointments to state-owned financial institutions.

Last week, Korea Asset Management Corp. appointed an arms specialist who worked at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration for more than 20 years to the post of a director who supervises corporate non-performing loans. This defies common sense.

Late last month, Korea Deposit Insurance Corp. appointed a lawyer who ran for the National Assembly in 2004 and 2012 as a candidate of the current ruling party as an outside director. Last year, it appointed two former backup candidates of the party as a director and outside director, respectively. In the year before last, a former policy chief of the party was appointed as an auditor there.

Not only financial public enterprises but also government agencies used appointments as a means to reward those who helped the Moon regime.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reshuffled the chiefs of diplomatic representations on Jan. 4. This is earlier than usual, as such reshuffles are customarily done in March or April. In the latest reshuffle, Moon’s former senior presidential secretary for economic affairs was appointed as the nation’s new ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hwang Hee appointed a classical singer who had sung in a concert for members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea living in his constituency, as president and chief executive of Korean Symphony Orchestra. It is very unusual to appoint a classical singer without related experience to lead a group of instrumental musicians.

The Ministry of Justice said it may reshuffle senior prosecutors ahead of the March 9 presidential election. It is widely rumored that prosecutors with a proclivity for showing loyalty to the Moon government will likely be promoted.

Political patronage began to gather speed last year.

In August last year, Korea Financial Telecommunications and Clearings Institute appointed a former senior administrative officer who managed general affairs at the Moon Cheong Wa Dae as its auditor. The official has no experience in telecommunications and clearings.

In September, Korea Growth Investment Corp. decided to appoint a former Cheong Wa Dae administrative officer without an investment-related career as one of its board members, only to withdraw the decision amid mounting criticism.

The obviously unreasonable appointments could hardly have become a reality, had it not been for some invisible order from above.

In July 2017, about two months after taking office, Moon promised not to use appointments as rewards for showing loyalty to him and the ruling party.

But all along, he has assigned an array of government or public enterprise posts to his supporters.

Toward the end of its term, a government with common sense would leave it up to the next one to fill positions at government-affiliated organizations. Appointments must no longer be used as a reward for showing loyalty.

By Korea Herald (