[FOUNTAIN]She knows what she is doing

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[FOUNTAIN]She knows what she is doing

In June 1999, when Kim Myong-ja was appointed minister of the environment, people took bets on how long she would last in the position. The job had been something of a mockery for the successive number of females who had held it, many of whom had been caught up in debates over their qualifications. Though Ms. Kim had received an indifferent reception upon her appointment, she survived the cabinet reshuffle last week. With 31 months in office, she is now the longest-serving minister in this administration.

Ms. Kim has become the subject of research by future female leaders who work at government-related jobs or plan to enter government. There have been various analyses of Ms. Kim's skills, skills that have allowed her to quietly and lastingly direct environmental policies amid a male-dominated political and bureaucratic atmosphere.

First, Ms. Kim is armed with professional expertise. Her education and career are deeply connected with environment-related affairs. She has firm opinions on many environmental issues such as improving the water quality of the three major rivers in Korea, land reclamation and the preservation of the Saemangeum area. Ms. Kim has enough knowledge not only to understand what bureaucrats say, but also to make them understand her.

Second, Ms. Kim has succeeded in taking complete control of the ministry. She promoted 350 officials in a series of personnel appointments and demoted others, and resistance was minimal. There were strict criteria to distinguish the competent from the incompetent.

Third, Ms. Kim has learned to continually confer with civic groups, academics and journalists. She has successfully resolved conflicts with certain organizations. And, she has become disciplined to listen to a wide range of opinions.

Fourth, Ms. Kim has broken through a male-dominated administration in "a feminine way." She has excellent negotiation skills to persuade all parties concerned. Most female ministers have been strong-minded and fierce, but Ms. Kim pursues her policies with pliability and an appealing manner. The fastidious National Assembly and the rigid Budget Ministry have come to support her. Her tenacious but gentle approach has led her to refuse police intervention against fervent demonstrations, one of which involved burning her in effigy.

Fifth, the Environment Ministry is known to have many conflict of interest issues and has generated pubic resentment. It will be interesting to see how Ms. Kim's abilities are evaluated in the future.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Chul-joo

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