Reform Fatigue Already?

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Reform Fatigue Already?

When we turn our attention to government officials, we often find ourselves trying to identify the goal of their work.

We might even wonder whether
officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affair and Trade have lost their way to their desks and departments. When issues arise concerning, for example, the revision of SOFA, or the use in the Korean War of the defoliant Agent Orange, they seem to turn away. They appear more supportive of the US military which insists that the residents around US military bases including Maehyang-ri and Dongduchon area are exaggerating their complaints. They condemn anti-American sentiment whenever civic groups hold demonstrations in front of the American embassy. Their protestations echo soundbites from the time of the military dictatorships of Park Jung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan. When this administration was inaugurated, it reassured the public that unfair articles in SOFA would be revised. It does not seem that these avowals were sincere.

Officials at the Ministry of National Defense unanimously defended the Paektu Project when the scandal surrounding Linda Kim broke. Defense ministry officials seemed more preoccupied with their personal disgrace than the process and outcome of the military project which purported to improve our power - and in which huge investment was made. The administration cannot escape suspicion when as opposition party, it harangued the administration with doubts about the project, but as ruling party has failed to conduct an audit on this very same issue.

When high-rise buildings were proposed for construction around Paldang Lake, the potential threat to this source of drinking water was only discussed when civic groups complained. While government officials put their feet up, the civic groups demanded to be heard and the media listened and began investigating. If this is the case, what is the point of public officials?

The Kim Young-sam administration rose to power by criticising the corrupt and illicit policies of the military government. The current reformist administration was launched to correct the incompetence of the Kim Young-sam administration. And there is still no sign that the corruption has been effectively challenged.

The current administration''s rallying cry was that it stood for reform. And indeed several reform policies were implemented. The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions became an legal institution and the Korea Teachers and Educational Workers Union (KTU) was officially acknowledged. However, sister reforms in education were evaluated as having ruined the quality of education at the sites, and the division of medical services has provoked continuous complaint.

Recently, a law was proposed to control the monitoring of private communications. The Millennium Democratic Party insisted on the immediate prohibition of unauthorized tapping when in opposition only three years ago. However, the MDP is now arguing for a reduction in invasions of privacy. The government pretended to agree with calls by civic groups to terminate tapping, but in fact, paid greater heed to protests from the National Intelligence Service and Public Prosecutor''s Office. It is impossible to understand both the identity of this administration and exactly which human rights the administration does seek to defend.

The reform of the chaebol (conglomerates) appeared to have been the subject of the current administration best efforts. However, it has again been left to the civic groups to stand up against the continuous infractions of the chaebol. In which respect will this government insist in the future that it was different from previous administrations and in which reforms will it have succeeded?

The ruling party is known to be concerned with national reform fatigue. It is amazing that fatigue has set in already. Some people insist that the government has done its part, but that the people have failed to respond. They insisted the government waved the ''flag of reform'' but became caught up in a mire of corruption, moral hazards, and the public interests of the government officials.

The current political situation of our country is the result of limited reform undertaken without a core plan. If they sincerely wished to reform at the beginning of this administration, they should have first conducted a large-scale operation to reform public service. However, they managed only to convince some supportive officials to play at reform. They could not even touch the deep-rooted foundations of the strcuture of government officials. It is not a wonder that the reform plans began from the early stage of administration to seem lackluster, and that government officials developed ways to avoid restructuring.

If reform has become stagnant, the current administration cannot avoid criticism that it shouted the slogan of reform simply in order to cling to power. It is also possible that restructuring in various fields for the sake of reform could be criticized as a way to assume the reins of personnel management.

If the Kim Dae-jung administration still wishes to profess to be a reforming government, it must show how it has realized that which it promised to gain power. That is the only way to recover the identity of the Kim Dae-jung administration as well as to regain the support of the nation. If it uses strategic wiles to win majorities without making earnest progress, it can only be seen as a government which cynically grasps at any expedient to maintain power.
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