[FORUM]Clean break with the past is duePoliticians tend to reward their supporters. This is all the more true when they see them as social underdogs who were mistreated for a long time. However, as the head of state, the president should act differently from other politicians. If the president indulges his supporters and oppresses the opposition, the country would be split, and national administration would collapse.
Former President Kim Dae-jung lost a golden opportunity as the first president hailing from the Honam region after nearly 40 years of Yeongnam domination of the presidential seat. He could have done much to tame regionalism and achieve the grand dream of an east-west rapport. Had he done so, he would not only have earned an honorable departure from office but also perhaps opened the way for another Honam native to succeed him as president. All such hopes were dashed, perhaps because Mr. Kim was moved too quickly in his attempts to reverse the maltreatment of people from Honam.
People were appointed to important government posts not based on ability but where they came from. This led to corruption and bribery in the government and caused great disappointment, spurring public protests. The boils of regionalism are festering again as complaints about a revival of discrimination against natives of Honam are being raised by members of the Millennium Democratic Party. Had President Kim persuaded his close aides and supporters to give up their greed for the sake of the country, had he concentrated on fair personnel policies and regional harmony, the results would probably have been quite different.
Many Koreans hope such regrettable shortcomings will not be repeated in the Roh Moo-hyun government. One point of extreme concern lies in labor-management relations. President Roh’s agenda is set to favor the labor unions, which repaid him most generously during the presidential election. Mr. Roh’s tendency to appease labor unions can be seen in the government’s policies and in the recent labor-management dispute at Doosan Heavy Industries and Construction. But focusing government policies on support for workers based on the claim that they are social underdogs could lead Mr. Roh to follow in the Kim Dae-jung government’s footsteps to a downfall.
Many parts of the new government’s labor policies impose immediate burdens on business. The problem is that the business community is not ready to bear these burdens under the current dire economic conditions. It is a well-known secret that a considerable number of domestic companies fiddle with their books to some degree. That is, a lot of these businesses are reporting profits when they are really losing money. To impose additional burdens on these firms would only make matters worse and ultimately drive them to bankruptcy. What is an even bigger obstacle in our economy is the profusion of illegal and destructive labor strikes. Should the government fail to react to these strikes properly, production and investment activities will shrink further. What might first seem like government policies favorable to laborers would only bring them enormous damage in the end, driving even more people out of their jobs.
A recently published survey by Switzerland’s IMD that compares national competitiveness shows Korea to be last among the 30 economic zones surveyed in attracting foreign investment. Korea was also last in labor-management relations. If the Roh Moo-hyun government chooses labor policies that will make things worse, not ameliorate this situation, this administration will never realize the dream of making Korea the economic center of Northeast Asia. There would be no way for the nation to escape becoming a peripheral country.
If the government is really thinking about the future of this country, it should favor neither laborers nor employers, but encourage industrial peace by maintaining a fair and balanced position. It should emphasize policies that make this country an attractive place to do business. The disappointed labor unions might protest, but President Roh, with all the support and trust he received from the labor unions, is obligated to come through and win their understanding of and cooperation with his policies.
President Roh must underscore that the policies are not for the short-term benefit and economic gains for workers but for the good of the whole country in the long run.
* The writer is the director of the JoongAng Ilbo Economic Research Institute.
by Roh Sung-tae