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[Editorial] Unwarranted privileges

Lawmakers of the ruling Grand National Party are taking another crack at curbing the time-old practice of public officials landing high-paying jobs at private companies immediately after retirement.

The latest attempt comes in the midst of public anger over officials of the Financial Supervisory Service who have all but monopolized the auditor posts at financial companies after retirement.

To address the deeply entrenched problem, lawmakers need to plug the loopholes in the Public Service Ethics Act. For instance, the act bans a high-ranking public official from getting a job for a period of two years after retirement with a private company connected closely with the business he performed in the three years immediately before his retirement.

But a former FSS official wrote to President Lee Myung-bak last week to tell him how FSS officials bypass this regulation. The whistleblower said that the FSS usually assigns officials close to retirement age to posts unrelated to their specialized fields to help them move to financial firms immediately after retirement.

To curb such “corruption at the organizational level,” Rep. Cha Myung-jin of the GNP is seeking to revise the law on the establishment of financial supervisory organizations. His bill calls for an across-the-board ban on officials of the FSS and the Financial Supervisory Commission from working for financial companies for two years after retirement.

Cha said 99 GNP lawmakers have already signed up to his bill, heightening its odds of winning National Assembly approval.

Cha has also come up with a separate bill to fill another loophole in the ethics act. The act requires a retired public official to obtain approval from a competent public service ethics committee in the first two years after retirement, if he intends to work for a private company with capital exceeding 5 billion won and sales topping 15 billion won.

This clause allows many law firms to hire public officials immediately after their retirement because their capital base is usually below 5 billion won. For instance, Kim & Chang, the nation’s largest law firm, has hired numerous ministers as advisers upon their retirement, expecting them to exercise influence over their ministries.

Cha’s bill proposes to ban senior public officials from working for any private companies for two years from retirement if the firms are engaged in businesses connected with the agencies they worked for.

Given that many similar legislative attempts have failed in the past, lawmakers will have to make unusual efforts to pass the bills this time. They should make Korea a fairer society by eliminating all sorts of unwarranted privileges.
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