Problems in Cabinet Reshuffle

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Problems in Cabinet Reshuffle

The cabinet has been reshuffled at the halfway point of Kim Dae-jung's presidential term. Judging from the extent of the change and the traits embodied by the new ministers, emphasis seems to have been placed on continuity and security rather than reform - despite claims made by the Chong Wa Dae. The new lineup strikes us as not only a step back in terms of reform, but also as a great retreat in professionalism. It is not clear why President Kim bothered to reshuffle his cabinet and what policy he has in mind for the latter half of his term.

The focal point of the reshuffle is a complete replacement of economic ministers. However, the new economic team is composed of bureaucrats who don't get good marks on embracing reform. We are left to wonder if it was really necessary to replace economic ministers across the board. We may interpret that the government wanted to cut a new figure as a means to disentangle itself from its current difficulties, for the general public has lost faith in the government, which has led to market agitation and an amplifying sense of crisis. Furthermore, symptoms of reform fatigue are showing in many areas. At such a juncture, the top priority in choosing the new faces appears to have been the maintenance of consistency without making companies jittery.

Yet we are concerned because Korea's sovereign ratings are liable to fall if the new economic team is less enthusiastic for reform in bank restructuring and conglomerate policy than the old camp. If the new team simply adopts the complacent view of the Korean economy held by the old camp and misses its chance to execute adequate economic policy, will market anxiety be dispelled?

It is regretful that credibility and professional background were not the criteria in selecting health and labor ministers. Currently the issue of dividing roles between medical doctors and pharmacists has driven the health sector into utter confusion, while trouble is brewing in the labor sector. In these areas, several of the replacements have nothing to do with promoting reform and some have been chosen to assuage internal conflict in the ruling party. It is questionable whether these figures will be able to respond to the demands for reform from the public.

The entire national security team, centered around Lim Dong-won, director general of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and the driving force behind President Kim's reconciliatory policy toward the North, has been retained. As a result, the double structure in North Korea policy - the NIS director, whose duty it is to supervise the gathering of information on North Korea, in effect leads negotiations with North Korea behind the scenes while the unification minister is only the front - will remain a big problem in managing state organizations. In light of the importance of North Korea policy, it is necessary to upgrade the minister of unification to the level of deputy prime minister.

The re-examination of the current Government Organization Act will be eventually required to design a new cabinet.
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