[VIEWPOINT]Let's Make Some Long-Term PlansLiving in Korea, I find that Koreans have an emotional, impulsive, and passionate side. From a positive perspective, this means Koreans are able to focus and unite as one when something needs to be done, but looking at it from the opposite view, this also can mean Koreans are in a hurry to take care of only the current issues without long-term plans.
When there are issues that are urgent and highlighted by the media, people work as a team to solve them, but once the issues become uninteresting, things become quiet as if nothing has happened.
These days, the biggest concern in Korea has been the drought. As we had not seen rain for a long time, the rice fields were drying up. Desperate about the situation, a farmer went as far as to kill himself. Many regions have even been short of drinking water and agricultural damage has raised vegetable prices. Everyone has been praying for sweet rain.
As with all national disasters, many fund-raising campaigns are ongoing to help the needy. According to an official I know, during times like this, in addition to voluntary participation in these campaigns, public servants are paid their salary after an automatic deduction of a contribution. From a foreigner's point of view, deducting donations in a uniform manner like this is a bit surprising.
Overcoming difficult times through united effort, such as gathering gold, helping the homeless and helping the drought areas is indeed a beautiful tradition. And, it seems there are many kinds of campaigns of these types in Korea. Of course no one can criticize goodwill.
However, one needs to ask how efficient these short-term campaigns can be if they are executed abruptly each time there is a problem without advanced planning, though they do unite Koreans and provide encouragement.
The "Gather Your Gold" campaign during the previous economic crisis is a good example. Everyone agrees that late 1997 and early 1998 were critical times for the Korean economy. Selling gold as well as anything that could be turned into foreign currency was required. But, no matter how much foreign currency the gold bought at the time, it may take much more money for Korea to buy the equivalent amount of gold now.
Looking at the"Help the Drought Areas" campaign, I remember a flood sweeping the northern part of Kyonggi province last summer. We held a similar campaign at the time. I think we did the same the year before as well.
Government funds are limited. So are people's contributions. Had we not tried to solve each of the problems on a temporary basis, like "pouring water into a cracked barrel," and instead invested in building dams or reservoirs for the future, dealing with droughts or floods would be much easier. I recall discussing at a dinner with other CEOs of foreign companies in Korea in 1999 how urgent it is for the Korean government and the people to prioritize their policies, to establish social infrastructure to prepare for the future.
To establish social infrastructure, long-term planning, significant investments and patience are a must. From a politician's point of view, not only are these plans unprofitable, but also painful when they have to be traded for political support. But, how long must these annual "Help the Homeless from the Flood," "Help the Drought Areas" campaigns continue? What are the priorities in spending the national budget? Only Koreans can make this decision. And, the consequences of the decision are also for Koreans.
The writer is the president of DaimlerChrysler Korea.
by Wayne Chumley