[OUTLOOK]What people are talking aboutThe conversation was the same over lunch a few days ago. Our country is in serious trouble, someone started. Whether we voted for him or not, we urgently need President Roh Moo-hyun to find stability and show more ability, another person said. Someone else voiced the opinion that the Roh administration’s biggest crisis was the lack of public trust because of the president’s frequent verbal mistakes. Get Mr. Roh to get his words straight, he suggested.
A more pessimistic member of our group said it was too late to expect anything from the Roh government. Only when the opposition party takes the general elections next year and either a “cohabitation” government is formed or the cabinet is reshuffled can we expect to have any kind of hope, the pessimist remarked.
These, however, cannot be solutions to the problem. The president is unlikely to clip his own wings by allowing a cohabitation government and there is no guarantee that such a government would fare any better. Yes, the president should watch his tongue but that alone will not solve the problems of our country.
Yet, the situation at hand is too serious to be allowed to continue. South Korea is sandwiched between rising tension between North Korea and the United States over Pyeongyang’s nuclear program and an economy that has sunk to a dangerous level. The National Assembly and political parties seem to have disappeared since the presidential election, whereas labor strikes and selfish interest groups have taken over the country. The problem, to put it simply, is the government’s incompetence. Unfortunately, the government leaves us very much in doubt as to its capabilities because so far, all it has done is whine. This could be the longest five years in Korean history.
I would like to make two suggestions on stabilizing the Roh administration.
First, it must mobilize all potential party forces. Until now, the Roh administration has left all important matters to the Blue House team and the cabinet. All manners of union strikes and collective action are aimed straight at the Blue House. The Blue House is suffering from a state of extreme exhaustion.
The Roh government has no regional support bases. It must break from this state of self-imposed isolation. There are plenty of social forces that the government can mobilize. First, there is the governing New Millennium Democrats. Albeit deeply divided into pro-Roh and anti-Roh factions, but the party still can be used as a stabilizing or supplementary force in politics. It is to the government’s detriment that there is a schism between the government and the party. The government claims that it promotes a culture of healthy debate yet it acts otherwise in incapacitating the National Assembly and the governing party.
Most positions by various interest groups, such as labor unions’ demands on the implementation of the five-day week, and opposition to the Saemangeum reclamation project and the new education information system, have to do with policies. This is a burden the administration and the legislative must share. In a “normal state,” such issues are debated in the representative bodies and among political parties. This is not happening in our country now, however. Everyone with a picket sign heads straight for the Blue House.
The government should abandon its narrow scope, which leaves it in self-isolation, and seek to widen its support base. The Blue House staff need not overwork themselves. There are Millennium Democratic legislators more than capable of sharing the burden, including the highly-admired Chough Soon-hyung. Also, a political agreement with the government party and the opposition party in opposing illegal strikes would make things much easier for the president.
The other suggestion concerns the command of the bureaucracy. An administrative bureaucrat by principle must follow the president’s orders. The president should not beg to be listened to and obeyed. Mr. Roh, however, seems to be doing too much of just that these days. “Invest in me . . . invest in Roh Moo-hyun now.” But people are saying they will not because the costs are too high. It is quite a pity.
A bureaucrat has objectives to be promoted and advanced. A bureaucrat needs a concrete goal and a standard of procedure. During the days of President Park Chung Hee, bureaucrats had concrete goals, such as promoting industry, exports, construction and rural development. What can a bureaucrat do these days? Vague terms, such as “reconstruction of the state,” “cultural reform” and “renovation of governmental affairs” do not inspire a bureaucrat to push for policy implementation.
Yet it is only when the bureaucrats get moving that the administration gets moving and social problems are handled at the lower administrative levels, as they should be, instead of issues being shunted directly to the Blue House.
Many people are worried about the state of our country these days. Everywhere in society there are voices that express worry about the downfall of Korea . The Roh administration must address these concerns promptly and confidently. No other answer is needed, only the ability to solve the pile of national issues at hand with the assurance of stability.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok