Of Financial Institutions and Hospital Soaps

      March 09, 2007 13:48

      A TV soap entitled "White Tower" is making headlines. A medical drama, it has become the topic of conversation even though there are neither love triangles nor extramarital affairs in it. Instead, it is a political drama, for all that it is set in a hospital, dealing chiefly with the power games and veiled enmity among several groups of doctors. They curry favor with their superiors, collude with each other and break faith to climb up the greasy pole at the hospital, shattering the perception that they are only there to practice medicine. Watching it, many in the audience will be thinking of their own struggle to survive in an organization.

      It was the recent personnel reshuffles in financial institutions that brought the drama to mind. Why? Members of the "Mofia," a group of government officials who have worked or are still working at the Ministry of Finance and Economy, are playing a game of musical chairs with their positions. The word "Mofia" suggests itself because they are the very image of a faction led by chief of surgery Jang Joon-hyeok (played by Kim Myung-min) in "White Tower."

      Above all, the two groups resemble each other in that only the inner circle of the groups actually makes decisions behind closed doors, although they look democratic on the outside. In "White Tower," the new chief of surgery is supposed to be elected by vote. But even before the voting begins, Jang Joon-hyeok and his followers have virtually achieved their desired goal by trying to win over and persuade other doctors and even bribing some of them.

      Likewise, some financial firms in which the government holds stakes -- Woori Financial, the Industrial Bank of Korea, and the Korea Housing Finance Corporation -- invited open applications for their CEO posts contingent upon decisions from their individual committees. But in fact, applicants were mere foils for the Mofiosi. The other applicants kept hope alive until the last moment. But the outcome was as expected. The CEO posts of all of three financial institutions went to the applicants supported by the Mofia.

      The strength of the Jang Joon-hyeok faction and the Mofia is rooted in the firm belief that as long as you stick with the organization, you will be rewarded sometime in the future.

      In "White Tower," Jang Joon-hyeok and his followers have no qualms about giving false testimony or tampering with evidence in civil medical malpractice suits. In return, they earn doctoral degrees, go overseas for study, and receive research grants. Mofia members, too, act as if there was a tacit agreement among them, "If I support you this time, I'll get the next chance."

      Three years ago, Cheong Wa Dae declared war on the Mofia. As a result, Mofia-backed applicants for a few posts failed in the competitions. But financial circles were soon back in the hands of the Mofia, as a recent series of personnel reshuffles shows. That shows how tenacious the Mofia is.

      So why is Cheong Wa Dae in its lame-duck year trying to embrace the Mofia again? Why, in particular, did it accept former vice finance minister Bahk Byong-won as the new chairman of Woori Financial despite his fractious relationship with the young, leading presidential associates?

      A bureaucrat-turned-financier says the government must have made the decision in a bid to control government agencies in its lame-duck year. The personnel management of financial institutions is a means to assure the loyalty of government officials until the last moment. Governments come and go, they say, but the Mofia is here to stay. It’s more than empty talk.

      In "White Tower," Jang Joon-hyeok and his followers eventually face ruin for their abuse of power. It remains to be seen if the Mofia will ever find itself in the same position.

      The column was contributed by Chosun Ilbo business reporter Lee Jee-hoon.

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