The Other Revolving Door

José Zalaquett

José Zalaquett

Head of the Project at MOOC Chile
Lawyer, Universidad de Chile. Doctor Honoris Causa, by the Universities of Notre Dame and City University of New York.
José Zalaquett

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A common nut of a certain size could be bought for less than a dollar in a United States hardware store. Renamed as a spare part for a jet fighter, arms manufacturers billed it to the Pentagon for a hundred times its value. About 30 years ago some American congressmen uncovered this scandal as a “revolving door”.

The scheme was as simple as it was shady: the Pentagon’s acquisitions executives retired with half a pension at the age of 40 or so and they immediately went to well paid positions in arms manufacturing firms. In the 1980s it was revealed that in Japan happened something similar with former functionaries of the Banks Superintendence of that country: they retired as public servants and were hired by big banks. Other cases in different countries were added later on.

Since then, the revolving door is considered a corruption problem, for two reasons: (a) While they serve the State, functionaries have a strong incentive for not biting the hand that will feed them tomorrow; (b) when they retire they take with them invaluable public information and then maintain networks with those who stay.

In Chile, the problem also exists. However, the name “revolving door” had been popular among the Chilean press to refer to those who commit crimes, get out of jail, commit crimes again, and so on… Thus, when it was made public that one of the priorities of the new Michelle Bachelet administration would be controlling the practice of specialized public functionaries that go private, there was talk of the “new revolving door”.

No country has found a solution for this problem. Public probity and public treasure must be looked after. But it is also complex to limit people´s freedom of work. It is also the matter that the ability of the State to attract qualified people is hindered if they think this will hold back their professional careers.

The most common solution consists in forbidding a former high public servant for a certain period (between 6 months and 2 years) to work as a private actor in the same field they covered as a functionary. In return, they keep, in whole or in part, the salary they used to earn.

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