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[Editorial] Curbing time-old practice

The government has come up with a set of measures to curb the deeply entrenched practice of high-ranking bureaucrats descending into high-paying private-sector jobs immediately after their retirement.

The package allows ministers, vice ministers, assistant ministers and heads of provincial governments to take a private sector job immediately after retirement. But it bans them from work that is closely related with the business they performed in their last year as a public servant.

This rule applies to large law firms and accounting companies that have thus far hired high-ranking officials upon their retirement without any restrictions on the scope of business they could engage in.

The package also toughened regulations on post-retirement employment of lower-ranking officials. Currently, the ethics act bans a public official from getting a job for two years after retirement with a private company related with the business he performed in the three years immediately before his retirement.

But recently, the Financial Supervisory Service was found to have bypassed this rule by assigning officials with three years left before retirement to posts unrelated to their specialized fields to help them move to private financial firms upon retirement.

To make this so-called “career laundering” practice more difficult, the new rule bans a retired official from private sector work related to the business he performed in the five years immediately before retirement.

For FSS officials, who were found to have virtually monopolized the auditor posts at financial companies, the government will make working-level officials as well as senior officials subject to post-retirement job restrictions.

These measures, which will be implemented starting in October at the earliest, represent the government’s determination to root out the so-called “jeon-gwan-ye-u” practice, which means incumbent bureaucrats providing honorable treatment to their retiring immediate predecessors. It is this practice that makes retired officials powerful -- and useful to private companies.

President Lee Myung-bak noted Friday that this time-old practice is diametrically opposed to the values that define a fair society. As he stressed, Korea would not be able to become an advanced nation without uprooting it.

But the package announced on Friday is nowhere near sufficient to tackle the deep-rooted problem. The government needs to come up with follow-up measures that can give it real teeth. For instance, it needs to increase penalties for those who violate the new rules.

Ultimately, the phenomenon of government officials enjoying privileges even after retirement will continue as long as Korea remains a society run by bureaucrats. We need to move toward a society that can run under a smaller government and with fewer regulations.
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