[INSIGHT]Diagnosis: early onset of rigidityLooking at a series of political events of late, one gets the impression that the Roh administration may quickly and unexpectedly contract “rigid-itis.” A new government two months into its existence should be overflowing with hope and confidence and should rightly show flexibility and ability to regenerate itself. Mr. Roh’s government, however, has exhibited obstinacy and unilateralism in decision-making, as evidenced by its policy on the news media and the process of naming the president of the state-run Korea Broadcasting System.
The naming of Ko Young-koo last week as head of the National Intelligence Service is a clear case in point. The National Assembly’s decision that Mr. Ko is not fit to be the director of the intelligence agency may not have been expected by the Blue House. The liveliness of an organization can be detected through its ability to find a solution that befits a change in the environment. There should have been either an effort to find an alternate for the job or a political process that could make both the National Assembly and the Korean people understand why Mr. Ko was the man for the post. The Roh administration failed to react quickly to the changing circumstances.
We can assume that Mr. Ko is the most suitable candidate for the post. But we must ask if the president made the right decision, given that he snubbed the National Assembly and ignored the principles of democracy to appoint the person of his choice. If this had been a business transaction, the government would have incurred huge losses. If Mr. Ko is such a talented person, there must have been other ways to use his skills.
Mr. Ko is a man of integrity and is reform-minded. But the National Intelligence Service is a spy agency, not an institution pursuing ethics and morality. The agency sometimes gets involved in morally questionable and insidious dealings. Raising doubts about Mr. Ko’s suitability may well be the natural thing to do. The greater problem is President Roh’s slanderous remarks toward the members of the National Assembly, which decided Mr. Ko was unfit for the job. Quoting the president, there may be people who wielded power at the agency when it was the “Blue House’s maid” and even people with a criminal history among the members of the National Assembly. But the reason why we respect their status now is because they are the representatives of the people.
That the president cast aspersions on elected representatives of the people is no small problem. The president’s remark that the National Assembly abused its authority was also inappropriate since the parliamentary hearings were intended to influence the president’s opinion on the matter. That the Blue House allowed the president’s remarks to be released unchecked prompts us to question the organization’s competence. Both the president and Mr. Ko should have been aware of these problems given their careers as lawyers and political activists. That the president insisted on sticking with Mr. Ko, and that Mr. Ko accepted the appointment was a surprising indication of the two men’s obstinacy and rigidity.
In addition, the Blue House said at the beginning that it was not considering Professor Suh Dong-man of Sangji University as a candidate for the National Intelligence Service’s powerful director of planning and coordination. But its announcement after the National Assembly’s non-binding “rejection” of Mr. Suh, that he was in fact being considered, was immature and was an indication of stubbornness. It was as if the Blue House intended to demonstrate how upset it was by showing that it could snub the National Assembly’s evaluation of Mr. Suh.
All in all, the controversy over naming the intelligence agency chief might as well be called a disaster for the Roh administration. All governments make mistakes. The older and more rule-ridden an organization is, the less ability it has for self-regeneration. Mr. Roh’s government is young. It should show its ability to quickly bounce back from mishaps. But while there have been frequent mistakes, it has failed to demonstrate its ability to quickly and efficiently react to circumstances. The president’s inappropriate remarks are released without qualification and the administration’s obstinacy and rigidity are frequently revealed.
Feelings of pride tend to reduce flexibility. If the president gets caught up in prestige and status, he becomes stubborn and loses the ability to easily change his course of action. And that brings mistakes, and mistakes tend to be self perpetuating. Mr. Roh is known to hold many debates. And frequent debates should prevent the president’s entourage from losing circumspection. If the president’s debates do not weed out problems and do not bring improvements, then the debates are a problem. The senior officials should be able to influence the president’s thinking and should also be able to correct one another. What exactly happened during the controversies over the KBS president and the National Intelligence Service chief? The president called the KBS fiasco his “worst day in office.” Mr. Roh’s verbosity has always been a concern. Were there any efforts by the Blue House staff to deal with this problem and did anyone make honest advice to the president?
Rather than fearing mistakes, the Blue House needs to fear the rigidity that prevents it from correcting its mistakes.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok
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