[NOTEBOOK]Shirts, cabinets need to be changedI happened to see the then-presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun at a mourner’s house last fall before a funeral. Another contender for the position, Chung Mong-joon, also made an appearance. It was just before the two agreed to merge their campaign efforts. Mr. Chung remained at the house only briefly, but Mr. Roh stayed for a long time, engaging in an incessant and steamed-up rhetoric on various reform topics, which left me with the impression of an impassioned politician.
President Roh is exactly 20 years younger than his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung. He is one of the few presidents who assumed the office before age 60. His enthusiasm and fervor for the job reflect his youth. Few days go by without his statements decorating newspaper headlines.
The Korean Information Service recently published a pamphlet arranging President Roh’s public utterances delivered during various conferences and events after he took office. The 130-page booklet spans all spheres -- from politics and culture, to the economy and social issues. If three months’ worth of statements amount to a book, his term of five years will likely yield some 20 volumes at the current rate.
His bold, self-assertive style is drawing both criticism and praise. His disposition to clearly display his thoughts on sensitive issues including foreign policy and labor disputes allows his remarks to be the perfect topic of contentious, often divisive debates. His name is seldom left out of most discussions on social and political matters.
Needless to say, there is nothing adverse about a president nudging up to his constituents. But when the president’s subordinates are drowned out by the glow of a star boss, a boundary needs to be drawn. Those in responsible positions are turning to the president at every juncture. Officials are becoming accustomed to referring important decisions to President Roh. Many people have come to harbor higher expectations and wish to meet the president in person, after witnessing the removal of his own pedestal as he met entrepreneurs, labor members and rank-and-file prosecutors.
Many observers find themselves increasingly on edge with this attitude. Exposure inevitably leads to more errors, but there is no one to cover up the mistakes of the president. Early this week, President Roh took a meaningful step by announcing his decision to restrict his supervisory duties in order to allow ministers to work their respective branches under the auspices of the prime minister.
If cabinet members are to be held accountable for their decisions, the ministers themselves need to be elevated to stardom. The ministers should address constituents currently met by the president and, in turn, the president should summon his cabinet with increased frequency. The roles of the numerous committees, planning offices and task forces that spring up should be transferred to the relevant ministries.
By relegating President Roh’s tasks to his cabinet, we expect to see the emergence of many more ministers that are as popular as the president himself. Only then can we elevate the morale of our civil service workers. For these reasons, finding means to strengthen the authority and command of the ministers should be investigated.
Assuring top officials of their tenure is an important link in such efforts. The launching of this administration saw the replacement of many positions including the Prosecutor General, heads of the Financial Supervisory Commission and the Fair Trade Commission. Last week, the president of the Korea Development Bank was replaced, a full year before the end of his term.
Some stress the importance of public officials being on the same wavelength as the current administration, and others refer to the political feasibility of replacing top positions to reflect the change of power. However, such policies contradict the president’s campaign pledge to uphold the tenures of certain key officials.
The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, popularly dubbed the “economic president of the United States,” was assured of reappointment by President Bush a year before the end of his term. Many public servants in Korea envy Mr. Greenspan, who has managed to implement his policies since 1987, for 16 years and through four administrations.
* The writer is business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Min Byong-kwan