Published : 2013-02-25 19:40
Updated : 2013-02-25 19:40
One issue that promises to come to the fore during the parliamentary hearings of ministerial nominees that start on Wednesday is “jeon-gwan-ye-u,” a time-old practice in the legal community whereby retired judges and public prosecutors who start a legal practice receive special treatment from their incumbent former colleagues.
In recent years, the unwholesome practice has spread to officialdom. These days, retired high-ranking government officials expect and receive preferential treatment from their incumbent former colleagues after having taken private-sector jobs.
This informal arrangement helps retired senior judges, prosecutors and government officials earn high salaries at law firms, consulting companies or other private enterprises that do business with government agencies.
The harmful practice has already been highlighted during the confirmation hearing last week for Prime Minister-designate Chung Hong-won. The former veteran prosecutor worked for a law firm as an adviser for 20 months from October 2006. During the period, he received about 600 million won in pay or 30 million won per month.
To ordinary people, the remuneration for Chung was excessive. Yet it was not a particularly high for legal circles. In fact, Hwang Kyo-an, a former prosecutor who was nominated to become minister of justice, received 100 million won a month from a law firm for his services between September 2011 to December 2012.
Hwang, whose confirmation hearing is slated for Feb. 28, faces pressure from the main opposition Democratic United Party to give up his nomination.
Another minister nominee targeted by the DUP is Kim Byung-gwan, former deputy commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, who was named to lead the Defense Ministry.
Kim worked as an adviser for the Korean representative of a German arms exporter for two years from July 2010 and received 215 million won for his services. Kim is suspected of having used his influence on the Defense Ministry for a project pushed by the German company.
“Jeon-kwan-ye-u” itself is a bad practice that should be rooted out. A more serious problem is that retired judges, prosecutors and government officials who have earned a fortune at law firms or other private companies by peddling their influence are often appointed to Cabinet posts or other powerful offices.
If these people become ministers or heads of other government agencies, they could find it difficult to reject requests for favors from the companies they had once worked for.
Furthermore, the possibility of retired officials being appointed to influential posts makes it difficult for their incumbent colleagues to turn down their requests for favors, thus reinforcing the unhealthy practice.
Therefore, retired judges, prosecutors and government officials who have chosen to make money through influence peddling should be avoided as far as possible when making public office appointments.