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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Oct. 8)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:09 October 08, 2021

Toughen ethics code
: Retired officials should refrain from serving as 'lobbyists'

An increasing number of retired bureaucrats have landed jobs at banks and nonbanking institutions over the past four years, raising concerns about their connections to the private sector. According to a report released by Rep. Yong Hye-in of the minority Basic Income Party, 250 former economy and finance officials found jobs in the financial sector between 2017 and 2020 under President Moon Jae-in's rule. The number marked a 26 percent surge from 199 such officials during the former Park Geun-hye administration.

The report said that 124 retired officials, who had worked previously at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Financial Services Commission (FSC), the Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the Bank of Korea or the National Tax Service, found new jobs with private entities. The figure was up 21.6 percent from the 102 under the previous government. The number included 43 former officials from the economy ministry, up from 39 under the Park administration.

Former FTC officials have been "parachuted" to take the helm of such private organizations as the Korea Federation of Banks, the General Insurance Association of Korea, the Credit Finance Association and the Korea Federation of Savings Banks. Over the four-year period, 72 retired economy and finance officials landed jobs at savings banks, 70 at banks, 53 at insurance companies, 52 at securities firms and three at credit card firms.

The data shows that President Moon has failed to keep his promise to break the corrupt ties between the government and the private sector. Upon his inauguration in May 2017, one of Moon's top priorities was to root out corruption and the accumulated social evils which had culminated in the massive corruption scandal that resulted in his predecessor's impeachment. However, Moon has since been under criticism for paying lip service by reneging on his commitment to creating a fair and just society.

Retired officials are, of course, entitled to seek private-sector jobs. But they are subject to some restrictions in their job search in order to prevent them from using their ties to incumbent officials to get favors for their new employers. Therefore former officials are required to undergo a screening process if they seek to work in the private sector in a capacity related to their previous official work.

Such a requirement is in accordance with the Public Service Ethics Act which was revised following the 2014 Sewol ferry tragedy which claimed the lives of more than 300 passengers. The act came to include clauses to cut the corrupt ties among bureaucrats, regulators and businesses ― seemingly the embedded cause of the ferry sinking. But such clauses proved to be useless when Park was ousted from power in May 2017 after being impeached for corruption and influence peddling.

Now, the ethics law appears to exist in name only. The Public Service Ethics Committee has continued to approve nearly 90 percent of applications for retired officials seeking employment in the private sector. This means that the panel has only played a perfunctory role without vigorously sorting out any improper moves by retired officials seeking employment. It is urgent to enforce tougher regulations to prevent former bureaucrats from working as "lobbyists" for banks or other financial firms.
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