Domestic Issues Demand Attention

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Domestic Issues Demand Attention

Now that President Kim Dae-jung has returned from his series of state visits, the eyes of the nation are upon him to see what reform policies he proposes in order to bring some semblance of normalcy back to domestic affairs. Even within the ruling camp itself, there appears to be a consensus that broad-ranging government reforms are needed.

The most important question is whether the president recognizes the extent of the present situation. It seems that there are some in the ruling party who deny that the economy is in a crisis and see the plunge in the stock market as a mere side effect related to delayed restructuring and the rise in the price of oil. The public does not agree with that assessment. When the administration said it would conduct overall inspections to assess the situation, it drew derisive comments questioning who was qualified to inspect whom. And the con artists in the financial sector who have swindled families out of their hard-earned money continue to conduct business with impunity and without being punished thanks to their lobbying in the government and political circles. Add to all this the huge amounts of public funds the government has spent in the name of reform and restructuring - much of it attained through deceiving the public and conducting secret negotiations - and it''s little wonder that the administration has lost credibility.

Nevertheless, rather than doing something about the situation, the ruling party insists that the will of the people is not being properly communicated to the president, who is protected behind a firewall of officials and long-time insiders. This is just another way of saying that Mr. Kim does not have a real understanding of the situation. He needs assume his own share of the responsibility for getting the country into the mess it is in today. Did he devote too much of his energy to his own personal achievements? Was it premature on his part to judge as a success of his policy of calling on the public to exert every effort and work together for recovery from the 1997-1998 recession? Did policies instituted in the name of reform become distorted through factionalism and regionalism? These are questions that he should reflect on. Now that the need for reform of the party machine has been broached, some of the president''s cohorts in the Millennium Democratic Party are insisting that it is those who actually wield political power that should be called on to reform. This seems to indicate that they are unaware of the allegations of corruption and incompetency being directed at them.

One of the first things the president should do is seek out those schooled in the art of statesmanship and genuine reformists to serve in a new cabinet. Anyone who is guilty of malfeasance in the financial or the public utilities sector should be replaced. Those connected with the ruling party who are said to be involved in corrupt financial dealings should be subjected to party discipline if the administration wishes to regain the trust of the people. It is also time to stop being so taken up with cooperating with the United Liberal Democrats that the crisis in national affairs is allowed to slide.

We are not objecting to Mr. Kim''s absences from Korea to receive the Nobel Prize and to meet with other national leaders, and we acknowledge the importance of receiving international recognition for his past struggle for human rights and for his policies toward North Korea. However, if he would bring his outstanding qualities to bear on solving our internal problems, the high marks he would receive from his own people would be of even greater value.

by Kim Young-hie

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