The Government Must Begin Afresh

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The Government Must Begin Afresh

Halfway through its term, the Kim Dae-jung government faces a big trial: a loss of public confidence. During the national convention of the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), President Kim claimed that the government corruption and the collusion between the government and business have become things of the past. Reality, however, speaks otherwise, as such practices are still prevalent.

The government made one change recently. Minister of Education Song Ja was hastily replaced after sparking a controversy stemming from his opportunistic activities. Nevertheless, unresolved problems still abound, hounding the government. Cases in point are irregular actions by Park Sang-hee, president of the Korea Federation of Small Businesses, and the uninspired make-up of the new Cabinet.

The Hanvit Bank loan case provides another glaring example. It has come to light that a former Chong Wa Dae administrator was involved. There is further suspicion that a powerful minister from the ruling party is linked to the case. The list of problems does not end there. The MDP leadership boasted openly that it had advised its legislators to report lower election expenses than was accurate and used its clout to suppress investigations by the prosecution and the National Election Commission.

The opposition's adamant refusal to return to the National Assembly is a problem. Far more serious, however is the concern that unless the doubts regarding campaign spending are dispelled, the legitimacy of the reform will be tarnished, for the present government has put reform on the top of its agenda all along.

There are more examples of the current regime's bungling performance. The separation of the practices of physicians and pharmacists, pushed without due preparations, has turned into a major headache. Devastated public schools will be the legacy of this government's education reform. The government gives the impression of concentrating on inter-Korean negotiations, but visual effects seem to be more what the government is after.

The government has failed to regulate the speed of the inter-Korean rapprochement. These problems have been pointed out time and time again. It was predicted from the outset that a makeshift reform without a clear blueprint will fail. Perhaps the erosion of the power structure is beginning to betray itself, in the form of moral misdeeds and power abuses.

Despite the distrust in the government, the current regime is actively dodging a fundamental diagnosis. It appears to be concerned only about early signs of the lame duck phenomenon, reasoning that once the government gives in, it will be hamstrung. Such an attitude stems from ignoring the public. The government appears to place top priority on maintaining power. "A strong government, a strong ruling party" is not achieved by political threats, with the strong-arming of the prosecution and the tax office.

In order to iron out the situation, the government must tackle the situation squarely by engendering a public consensus and earning trust. To dispel doubts about the Hanvit Bank case, a thorough investigation is needed to determine whether the powerful minister in question was actually involved. An independent counsel should be appointed to investigate the MDP’s alleged cover-up of campaign spending violations. The government needs to convey the notion that it is willing to uncover the truth. Manipulation of public opinion will not hide the truth forever.

The government is in crisis; the government needs to backtrack to the reform-intensiveness of their early days when they enjoyed the full support of the public in their determination to overcome the foreign exchange crisis.

by Kim Young-hei

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