A Leader Has to DelegateThe President Has to Change First; Replacing Officials Is Not Enough
The economy is not the only area in crisis in Korea today. Public confidence in the government is in crisis, as is morality.
Koreans used to believe that an old maid''s declaration of not wanting to get married, an old man''s of not wanting to live much longer and a merchant''s of selling at a loss were three of the most outrageous lies. A new version of the old saw has emerged: the government''s declaration of pursuing restructuring based on firm principles, of never again raising public funds and of sparing no one in cracking down on corruption. The public has lost so much faith in the government that even its key policies are jeered at.
At each crisis, the government has announced it would revamp state administration and reshuffle the cabinet and the ruling party. Predictably, it came up with the same old litany for the current crisis. Since it is people who are administrating state affairs, replacing the officials in charge should produce some changes. Few of the many reshuffles to date generated changes or improvements, however.
The previous Kim Young-sam administration frequently replaced cabinet members toward the end of its term, but failed to bring about an improvement. The Kim Dae-jung administration carried out several cabinet shakeups, but failed to avert the current crisis.
State administration cannot be renewed or crises overcome simply by changing the people in key positions. A renewal is possible only when the policies, and the method and style of their implementation that caused a crisis, change. This should be the goal of any party or cabinet overhaul. Only the faces of those in charge were changed in all the previous reshuffles, however, and failed to generate a new atmosphere, policies or styles.
We need to look no further than the last cabinet shakeup in August. Did the nature or style of the current administration change since then? No.
President Kim Dae-jung''s unique style of leadership is to spread blame for failure. The administration did not change, no matter how often cabinet or party leaders were replaced, because his methods of leadership, employing people and making decisions remained the same. That the administration is still under crisis is a testimony to the inadequacy of Mr. Kim''s methods.
If the objective of revamping the party or cabinet leadership is to create a different one, Mr. Kim has to change first. He is a brilliant intellect, but he has his limitations. His personal limitations should not become the limitations of the administration or the nation. He has to employ officials capable of handling affairs as good as, or better than, he does. The administration and the party should not produce only a solo recital by Mr. Kim. They have to orchestrate a symphony of many voices and different tunes, each presenting different views. They also have to be able to present beautiful ensemble music to the audience.
Ever since Mr. Kim rose to power, the public has often heard about how he takes charge of everything, with government officials doing nothing but trying to read his intentions. Even labor unions and civil petitioners demand to talk directly with the president, since he has the last say in everything. Ruling party members complain that Mr. Kim does not have an inkling of public sentiment and that the channels of communication with the president are somehow blocked whenever they are given a chance to speak out. They also assert that they are longing for a chance to say what is on their minds directly to the president.
If Mr. Kim''s current style and methods of administrating state affairs remain unchanged after he pursues the coming reshuffle, he might just as well save the effort. He has to be the first person to change if he truly wants a new, dynamic administration.
Next, he should pick and choose talented personnel from a broader pool, instead of limiting the choices to his sycophants and followers. He is liable to employ second-rate and third-rate people if he chooses among the same group with similar tendencies. He has to cast the net wider to embrace the first-rate and the mainstream of our society.
Then he has to fully empower the officials he appointed. If Mr. Kim''s style of leadership does not change and the newly appointed officials follow their predecessors'' example of simply trying to read and comply with their boss''s intentions rather than using their judgment, it will be a waste of precious talent and a great loss for the nation. No matter how brilliant and competent, no one can demonstrate his capabilities under the current atmosphere. Mr. Kim should remember that one mark of an outstanding leader is the employment of outstanding ministers.
Mr. Kim should limit his role to supervising state organizations and teamwork and to using fair and strict criteria to reward and punish government officials.
It is the president''s duty to ensure the overall operations of systems and delegate the rest to other officials. He must not try to do everything alone. He should realize how serious the situation is when government officials complain of the domestic administration being stalled when the president is abroad.
The coming reshuffle could be the last opportunity for the administration to rebuild itself and turn things around. Let''s hope it will lead to genuine changes this time.
The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Columns
More good than harm
For balanced information intake
Room for alignment
A cautionary tale