[INSIGHT]Who’s in charge here anyway?The Roh Moo-hyun administration is under attack. The normally euphemistic Cardinal Stephen Kim Sou-hwan directly condemned the administration, saying that his hopes are crumbling. Even the Korean Confederation of Labor Unions, which had appeared to be on the president’s side, criticized him as a novice. His approval rating has fallen to 30 percent, and media reports say he gets bad marks on economic matters.
What is more serious than bad performance is the absence of efforts to seek a remedy or an alternative plan to correct mistakes and overcome difficulties. The administration needs to start looking for the causes of the blunders of the past six months and learn from the experience.
To me, one of the biggest weaknesses of the Roh administration revealed in the last six months is that the government does not have an organized system. Mr. Roh has filled each position with a new face, but the incumbents have failed to fulfill the responsibilities expected of them so the collective organization doesn’t function properly. For instance, even a small company has separate departments dealing with production, operations, and management, and each division is headed by a supervisor. A government under fire surely needs specialists who can take charge of politics, the economy, administration, planning and coordination. When the supervisor is proven to have leadership, initiative and drive, he becomes a big shot and a star is born.
Now we need to ask if the Roh administration has properly divided and assigned tasks to specialists. Let’s say Prime Minister Goh Kun is in charge of government administration. Then who is in charge of politics? How about the economy? Can we trust the deputy prime minister for economic affairs will do the job? How about policy planning and coordination? Will the young Blue House aides be up to the task?
In past administrations, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs was the designated apologizer for economic failures. When the National Assembly was paralyzed or a political crisis created instability, an opposition leader would come forward and acknowledge his faults. Now, who will assume responsibility for failures? Who will make an apology? Without having actual decision-making power, officials will not feel accountable for mistakes and failures. Supervisors in name only cannot be asked to assume accountability for outcomes if actual decisions are made elsewhere. Everyone is criticizing the government’s disappointing economic performance, but how can we blame the deputy prime minister, who does not really have any power? Gigantic public projects are drifting, but can we ask ministers to take the responsibility for the confusion? Shall we blame the prime minister or the Blue House brains? The administration made clear that it would not take the responsibility for the political crisis when it began talking about an American-style presidential system or the separation of the administration and the ruling party.
The Roh administration is not systematically organized. Specific fields are not managed by specialists who know the job. Mr. Roh advocates a division of power, but the departmental supervisors do not have any real authority. There is no big shot or star. Who would say that Mr. Goh is a man of clout? Does the deputy prime minister or chief of staff look powerful? Even the highest-ranking officials do not have authority; hence they are not accountable. Some young Blue House secretaries are considered powerful, but the behind-the-scene string pullers have never been tested for competency, and certainly they will not be held accountable for public blunders. The ruling Millennium Democratic Party’s mainstream politicians have long lost their influence.
Only the president has power. We see Mr. Roh everywhere, trying to meddle in every conflict and getting all the criticism. If the truckers stage another walk-out or the Hanchongryun creates trouble, the president is blamed. There is no breakwater to shield the president from the onrushing waves. On the front line of attack, the president himself is not waging a good fight either. Government management is certainly not in order.
In short, the entire government has gotten failing grades. It is hard to understand why the government is not even discussing internally the seriousness of the situation now that it has spent nearly six months in office. It is still not too late to overhaul the system. Give each department proper power and have the supervisor take responsibility. The ultimate authority and accountability still belong to the president, but we need to have a hierarchical division of power. The president should be bolstered by powerful figures and specialists. The more stars we have, the stronger the government will become. At least the prime minister, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs, the chief of staff, and a couple opposition leaders should be called men of influence. The president can make or break these officials and politicians, depending on how he wants to share his authority. Mr. Roh needs not be afraid of the stars being born. A president with a powerful entourage can become even more powerful.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Song Chin-hyok