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[Editorial] Unwarranted appointments

Jobs at public institutions are not for politicians

On May 2, Choi Gye-woon stepped down as CEO of the Korea Water Resources Corp. His resignation drew attention as there was no particular reason for him to step down six months before the expiration of his term.

A former university professor, Choi is recognized as one of Korea’s top experts in water management. Until recently, he had been passionate about his work. In March, he was elected the first president of the Asia Water Council.

Choi’s abrupt resignation spawned speculation that he had been pressured by the presidential office to make way for someone from the ruling party or the government.

For months, there has been speculation that, following the April general election, the Blue House would exercise undue influence to ensure that many of the ruling party candidates who lost the election could land jobs at public agencies and corporations.

According to Alio, an open public institution management information system, more than 80 public entities have to recruit their new CEOs in the remainder of this year. The number of posts to be filled within this year increases to more than 200 when the offices of auditors and directors are included.

Until 2014, these jobs had been largely taken up by former government officials. Ministries intervened in the recruitment processes of public agencies and corporations under their supervision to help their officials land post-retirement jobs.

But the number of retired public officials parachuted into leadership positions at public institutions fell sharply last year following the revision of the Public Service Ethics Act. The amended law bans former public officials from getting jobs at institutions closely related with the business of their agencies for three years after retirement.

The presidential office took advantage of the revised law. It began to exert its clout to have posts at public organizations filled by politicians. Recently, Korea Mineral Resources Corp. and Credit Guarantee Insurance Corp. sparked suspicions of pressure from the Blue House when they each put a politician on their panels of auditors.

The public sector is one of the four areas, along with labor, education and finance, which President Park Geun-hye has pledged to reform. But appointing politicians with dubious credentials to key posts at public institutions would only hamper efforts to reform the sector.

The number of executive posts at public institutions exceeds 1,300. It would be impractical to exclude politicians from all of these offices, but there should be some measures to curb the descent of unqualified politicians on public institutions.

The People’s Party recently said it would present a bill to the 20th National Assembly to deal with this matter. It would be a good starting point for lawmakers to explore solutions to the problem.