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Will gov`t appointment process change under new pres.?

Posted December. 25, 2012 23:48,   


President-elect Park Geun-hye has unveiled the most important principle in major government post appointments: expertise in the field.

“Parachute personnel” is a term that indicates appointments by orders from top figures, and this practice had been repeated by previous governments in Korea. Park seems to have noticed that such appointments always backfired and shook an administration in the end.

Whenever a change in power occurs, both conservative and liberal governments pledged transparent personnel management to secure qualified figures to top positions. To this end, new personnel systems were introduced to appoint professionals to top posts in public institutions but later faced criticism as facades that failed to secure people with expertise.

Expectations are high for Park’s personnel principles. Many expect a much improved personnel management with far fewer "parachute personnel" appointments, but doubts linger over whether she can resist the temptation to have people close to her assume important posts.

A high-ranking official at an economy-related agencies said, “It`s up to the appointer when it comes to the personnel issue of public institutions. Park’s actions are what matter the most.”

○ Repeated practice of “parachute personnel” or “code personnel”

On April 3, 2003, then President Roh Moo-hyun ordered in a meeting with senior presidential advisers an open and fair selection system to appoint capable and professional people to head government agencies and public institutions. He was seen as seeking to staff the government sector with reform-minded people with expertise.

Later, however, his appointments were blasted as “code personnel,” meaning he appointed people who shared his ideology.

The practice of parachute personnel in the government continued under the outgoing Lee Myung-bak administration. In May 2008, three months after President Lee had been inaugurated, the Strategy and Finance Ministry said, “We will put an end to the practice of `parachute personnel` and raise the competitiveness of public institutions by selecting experts from the private sector.”

But things turned into business as usual under the Lee administration, whose personnel selection process was branded “Ko So-young." The name is that of a famous Korean actress on the surface, but in this case, it means that only people who graduated from Korea University, President Lee`s alma mater, attends Somang Presbyterian Church, where he is an alderman, and are from Yeongnam (the region spanning Busan, Daegu, Ulsan and the two Gyeongsang provinces), where his hometown is, can get top posts in his administration.

Another term used is "Kang Bu-ja," which is also the name of a Korean actress in its pronunciation, but refers to people who own a lot of real estate in Seoul’s posh southern district of Gangnam.”

This month, or just two months before President Lee leaves office, four of his secretaries were appointed as auditors at the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, Korea Appraisal Board, and Jeju Free International City Development Center. This fueled criticism that he was granting public posts to his aides near the end of his term.

With the practice of parachute or code appointments repeated by each administration, cynics say high-ranking public posts are saved for politicians and high-ranking officials to give them superannuation. An analysis of the 198 heads of public institutions who were selected through open competition from June 2008 to June this year showed that 46 percent came from the government, 26.3 percent from the private sector, and 23.2 percent from the political circle.

Just 4.5 percent of them were promoted internally. Many of them were from government ministries, the ruling Saenuri Party or the presidential office.

○ Nominal public recruitment system needs change.

The question is how President-elect Park can secure professionalism like she pledged. Experts say professionals can be naturally secured only if the public recruitment system is run based on principles instead of being used as a tool that embellishes the appointment practice of parachute or "revolving door."

In the center of all the fuss over personnel affairs of public institutions is the nominal public recruitment system, which was introduced by the Kim Dae-jung administration and now covers a wide range of institutions with more sophisticated systems. Along with a few improvements, however, expedients also have evolved, further providing justifications to distorted personnel practices such as parachute or revolving door appointments.

Exemplary public institutions are even said to have the person recommended by the top figure pass the selection process without letting problems occur. This aptly describes how nominal the public recruitment system has been.

The process of the public recruitment system for leading posts goes like this: application, document review, interview, recommendation of three to four top candidates, and appointment by the ministry in charge or the president.

Under this system, no changes are necessary to appoint experts. Giving a simple order to the ministries and institutions in charge to select professionals regardless of background is all that the president needs to do.

Hwang Yun-won, a public administration professor at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, said, “Expertise will be naturally secured if the government sets specific principles of personnel recruitment soon after the next administration`s inauguration and abide by the principles.”

Certain experts say securing expertise depends on how well President-elect Park shakes off temptations surrounding personnel appointments. The chief executive directly or indirectly appoints roughly 3,000 to 4,000 posts, including the heads, auditors and executives of agencies ranging from associations to public institutions.

Though experts are appointed to lead major public enterprises through a fair process, if one or two exceptions is found, the principles pledged by Park can instantly crumble.

Lee Jun-han, a political science professor at the University of Incheon, said, “The president could secure expertise by letting the ministries in charge select a person themselves or raise internal promotion rates, instead of trying to manage all personnel appointments by herself.”