Empowering the Economic Deputy

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Empowering the Economic Deputy

Time to Introduce A Collaborative Team Play

Each of the past South Korean administrations managed the economy differently in accordance with the then-president''s style. President Park Chung Hee gave full authority to the economic deputy prime minister. During his rule, he employed several outstanding deputy prime ministers, like Chang Kye-young, Kim Hak-yol, and Nam Duck-woo, who dominated power and held the initiative over policies. While a few presidential secretaries for economic affairs were influential, the commander of economic policies was the deputy prime minister.

In contrast, President Chun Doo Hwan relied heavily on the presidential secretary, who was entrusted with the responsibility of devising basic economic policies. One senior presidential secretary for economy, Sa Kong-il, wielded a great influence for three years and eight months, basking in the president''s absolute trust.

It is difficult to categorize President Roh Tae-woo''s style. He initially called on the presidential aides not to become actively involved in running the economy. As time passed, however, they assumed an increasingly large role. Mr. Roh emphasized the central role of the economic deputy prime minister, but his actions spoke differently. This sometimes lead to serious conflicts between the senior presidential secretary and the deputy prime minister. Presidential aides often scrapped the policies the cabinet''s economic team had decided and they tried to meddle in personnel appointments. One deputy prime minister handed in his resignation twice in protest.

The situation was similar during President Kim Young-sam''s rule. Strictly speaking, he leaned towards his presidential staff. He frequently replaced the economic deputy prime minister; seven served under him during a five-year period. Their status was so weak that one even suffered from a spell of dizziness when a minister lashed at him during a meeting.

Now let''s look at the current administration. Befitting the "president prepared to tackle economic issues" that he is, President Kim Dae-jung took the initiative. He personally decided on the direction and countermeasures for such key policies as restructuring and labor-management issues. Actually, he took over as the head of the cabinet''s economic team. One reason was the pressing economic problems, but he was also confident of his capabilities.

The Ministry of Finance and Economy was stripped of much of its power for failing to avert the financial crisis and the deputy prime minister was demoted to a minister, making it difficult for the cabinet economic team to assume a key role. The top economic aide to the president also did not rise above obediently following Mr. Kim''s orders.

While this system allowed rapid decision-making and initially helped to cope with the economic crisis, the side-effects became increasingly obvious. The ministers, instead of presenting their own views, were too busy writing down Mr. Kim''s instructions. The pursuit of restructuring slackened when Mr. Kim declared that the crisis was over, but swerved to a tough line when he said the forecasts were too optimistic. Rarely did anyone rebut Mr. Kim. As a result, everyone looked only to the Blue House for solutions. Even striking doctors and financial union members demanded to talk with the president only.

Mr. Kim has revived the position of economic deputy prime minister after three years. It seems he thought things must not continue in their current state. If so, his management style should also change. Role-sharing is essential to make the economy move in accordance with the system. Now that the large framework has been determined. It will be far more effective for Mr. Kim to delegate working-level issues to the economic team as he himself concentrates on blocking political influence that might hamper policy implementation. Past performances show the economy ran stably under such a structure.

Mr. Kim also has to empower the deputy prime minister. He should be allowed to meet the president at all times and to have a say in appointing ministers, if necessary. Mr. Kim particularly has to minimize the clout of presidential economic aides. He can switch to different methods if this proves ineffective. The revival of the deputy prime minister''s position is meaningless unless such fundamental changes follow. Certainly, the first priority is for the deputy prime minister to renew his resolve not to rely on expedients to boost short-term performance to hang onto his job, or to neglect restructuring.

Star players are important, but team play based on cooperation is more effective, especially under the current complex situation. To date, the president has had to tackle everything on his own for one reason or another. It is time for him and the economic deputy prime minister to introduce team play of a higher level. Overcoming the economic crisis will not be so difficult if they resort to team play of all the members working together with the economy principals and the political sector.

There is not much time left. We look forward to seeing a great collaborative team play.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Wang-ky

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