The Korea Herald


[Editorial] A blind spot

Election watchdog in crisis over alleged favoritism in the hiring of staff's children

By Korea Herald

Published : May 31, 2023 - 05:30

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Alleged employment favoritism which was recently exposed in the National Election Commission shows that an institution, if left unchecked, is likely to decay.

NEC Secretary General Park Chan-jin and his deputy, Song Bong-sup, offered to resign Thursday following allegations of preferential treatment in the hiring of their children by the election watchdog.

Their resignations came 14 months after the previous Secretary General Kim Se-hwan resigned amid criticisms for poor management of early voting for the presidential election and for an alleged favoritism in the recruitment of his son as an employee of the commission.

This arouses an impression that “hereditary employment” was a common practice in the agency.

Two other high-ranking officials in provincial offices of the commission are under similar suspicions in connection with their children joining the institution.

Secretary General Park’s daughter was hired by the South Jeolla Provincial Election Commission last year after working as a government employee for a district office of Gwangju Metropolitan City. Deputy Secretary General Song’s daughter worked as a public servant of Boryeong City, South Chungcheong Province, before entering the Danyang County Election Commission in North Chungcheong Province in 2018.

Previous Secretary General Kim’s son joined the Incheon Metropolitan City Election Commission after working at Ganghwa County Office.

All of them joined the election offices as career staff. They are said to have received near-perfect scores from job interviewers, most of whom are said to be former colleagues of their fathers.

Park and Song ignored the code of conduct for employees that they should report to the NEC chairperson if their cousins, uncles, aunts or family members become connected to their jobs.

Park had the final approval authority when his daughter was hired.

The commission is currently conducting its own special inspection into four recruitment cases in question. Separately, it is investigating all employees on mid-level and above.

But it is not receiving inspection from the Board of Audit and Inspection.

When the commission was criticized for collecting ballots completed by some of the COVID-19 patients and those in quarantine in parcel boxes, plastic baskets or shopping bags instead of regular ballot boxes, it refused to be inspected by the board. It conducted its own internal inspection. It also found nothing wrong with alleged favoritism in the hiring of Secretary General Kim's son.

When the National Intelligence Service recommended the commission should check its security system, citing that North Korea was suspected of attempting several times to hack into it, the commission refused a joint check by the intelligence service and the Korea Internet & Security Agency for a while.

Whenever it refused inspection from outside, it cited that it was an independent constitutional institution. It has never been inspected by the Board of Audit and Inspection ever since it was established in 1963.

Under the pretext of independence, some high-ranking officials including No. 1 and No. 2 in the secretariat created a blind spot and inherited jobs. Its own inspection alone is not enough to gain public trust.

The commission is reportedly considering relieving Park and Song of their posts “at their own requests."

This opens the road for them to retire without receiving disciplinary actions. If they are not fired but resign at their own requests, they can get a job as a public servant elsewhere and also receive a government employee pension.

Public servants are not allowed to retire at their own requests while inspection or investigation involving them is underway. However, the commission is an exception as an independent organization.

Its own inspection into alleged hiring favoritism may become cosmetic. Inspection and investigation from outside is needed to prevent that.

The election commission is a massive organization with about 3,000 employees stationed across the country. And yet it lacks a transparent internal inspection system. Now is the time to seek fundamental solutions, including oversight and check from outside.