[OUTLOOK]Developing the development toolsI congratulate President-elect Roh Moo-hyun on winning the right to lead this country for the next five years. I hope he can untangle the snarl of domestic and international problems facing this country and meet with great success.
Because of some luck and a lot of perseverance, Korea could be poised to join the upper ranks of developed nations early in the 21st century. In the agricultural and industrial ages of the past, Korea lacked a competitive edge. The relatively barren soil and challenging climate, the scarce resources and feeble foundations of capital worked to keep us relatively poor. Today, however, we not only live in an age of globalization that presents fresh opportunities to overcome these handicaps, but also in an information age where our skilled work force can build a knowledge-oriented society. I hope Mr. Roh can lead the nation to that ideal and take full advantage of the suddenly changed competitive position of this country.
There are some issues that are pressing and must be dealt with skillfully. They include the problem of strengthening the traditional Korean-American partnership and finding a way to defuse the threat posed by North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons. While managing these impending problems, I believe the Roh administration can also quickly set priorities and draw up plans to handle the government's medium and long-term tasks.
We must take a look at Mr. Roh's campaign pledges to get an idea of how Mr. Roh wants to lead us. A prominent American politician once observed that while the campaign trail is laden with poetry, the administration of governmental affairs is written in prose. It is essential that the realities and the magnitude of the tasks ahead of us quickly settle in and dispel the post-election euphoria in the circle of advisers around Mr. Roh. Political observers in Western nations with their long history of functioning democracies often observe that the candidate who promises the least disappoints the least. History suggests that many promises made on the campaign trail are discarded when the winning candidate begins to face the reality of the domestic and international situation. Incoming presidents must have the courage to put experts to work sorting out which promises can be kept and which must be put aside.
Although there are many long-term issues to be addressed, the two most important in this information-driven and globalized world are creating a business-friendly economy and reforming the educational system to provide high-quality public education.
A pro-business society can blossom in soil where there is a respect for law and order, where there is security and where politics are stable. There must be a respect for principle and for common sense, and there must be transparency in both political and corporate governance. Governmental restrictions and regulations that do not fit global standards should be abolished, and healthy labor relations based on a flexible labor market must be developed. Creating a good social security network is important, but it must be shaped with the thought of keeping the tax burden on Korean companies in line with that faced by their Western competitors.
Educational reform is a sensitive issue here, and feelings run deep on all sides of the issue. As is the case with other national security and economic issues, the new president would do well to seek out the insights of experts in the field in making decisions about his policies. Especially in education, the president will have to play a personal role as mediator between competing interests, as an arm-twister to narrow differences as much as possible and as a champion of the eventual policy line that emerges from the debate.
The president can only be as effective as the administrative tools he has to work with, so a lot of attention must be given to our notoriously ineffective bureaucratic structure. More planning and coordination between agencies is necessary, and the government must learn to communicate better with the citizens. The recent dispute with China over garlic imports and the cacophony surrounding the negotiation of a free-trade agreement with Chile both were caused by a lack of ability to coordinate interagency functions.
The economic team must also have an international vision of the Korean economy. Teamwork can be encouraged by naming cabinet members who share the president's basic views on economic issues; they must be kept in their jobs for the long term -- ideally, they should be named with the intention of keeping them there for the administration's five-year term. Only a reorganization of the government and effective use of human resources can ensure a well-functioning government.
It is a big job, and I wish Mr. Roh well.
* The writer is chairman of the Institute For Global Economics.
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