[OUTLOOK]President Roh’s wistful apology

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[OUTLOOK]President Roh’s wistful apology

Lee Hun-jai resigned from the position of deputy prime minister and minister of finance and economy after turns and twists. I don’t know how significant the purchase of real estate 26 years ago is for the position of deputy prime minister and minister of economy, but such happenings are not surprising because there have been similar incidents frequently. Something else is notable: It is the fact that President Roh Moo-hyun wrote in person “a letter to the people” in regards to Lee Hun-jai’s resignation. With an apology for the acceptance of his resignation that said “he was very sorry,” President Roh even wrote, “I felt as if I lost a general after having struggled to keep him from being swept away by a tidal wave.”
This letter was not only unprecedented but also sorrowful in its tone like an essay, not an official document. How special could Mr. Roh’s confidence in Mr. Lee have been to emphasize his regret to the point of comparing his resignation to the tsunami disaster?
In any case, the gist of the letter was that although President Roh had no intention to let Deputy Prime Minister Lee quit his job, he had to accept his resignation because public opinion was so critical. Although the letter was an apology expressing regret for accepting the resignation under public pressure, its actual content appeared that he was merely sorry for the public outcry and was intent on making an excuse.
The letter was a very unusual statement to the people. It was in the form of a message on the Internet, which deserves the notion of the cyber president, and its expression was so sentimental that the letter might have been widely read by many people.
Some people said his message was touching, and other people said that they could understand the troubled heart of the president as a human being from the letter.
But there seems to have been a number of people who felt this special letter was surprising. Perhaps, wouldn’t Lee Hun-jai himself have felt it very embarrassing and unexpected?
He may have said in wonder, “Did the president think so preciously of me?” Above all, Mr. Lee was never a happy minister of economy during his term of office. The president’s confidence in him was not absolute, and Mr. Lee had to read the minds of actual power holders in appointing even the head of a government agency under his ministry. It is a well-known fact that he had a few difficulties because in addition to the deputy prime minister of economy, there was the deputy prime minister of education and the deputy prime minister of science and technology, and because influential politicians, ministers and aides close to the president had all voiced their own opinions. For this reason, Mr. Lee many times experienced frustration during his term and expressed his intention to resign from his post.
Mr. Lee did not have difficulties in his office because his competitors or rivals held him in check but because the president directly came forward to formulate the plan to allocate personnel and carried out operations of economic affairs. Strictly speaking, the chief commander of the economy was not the deputy prime minister of economy but President Roh himself. Under the pretext of valuing the system, the president decentralized roles and organizations. Considering Mr. Lee’s background as a finance bureaucrat, he continued to use his unique tactics of checking Mr. Lee with scholars close to him.
Nevertheless, the president said he was sorry for Mr. Lee’s resignation in his letter and that he was “ashamed as the one who is responsible for his appointment to let a general be swept away without properly clarifying the whereabouts of responsibility in the face of public opinion that rushed in like a tidal wave.” If the president felt so sorry as to compare the inevitability of letting Mr. Lee go to a natural disaster, does this not mean that the relations between the president and the deputy prime minister have been known to people in a wrong way?
In any case, this incident made clear President Roh’s personnel management style. Although his style was repeated many times, the direction of the pubic opinion is the first key to his personnel operation. Although he blamed the public opinion for the need to replace Mr. Lee, he also wrote the “special letter” regarding his resignation because he was conscious of the public opinion.
The process and method of his selecting the incoming deputy prime minister of economy also shows that the public opinion comes first. It would be better to try to read public opinion skillfully and covertly, because he is so overt and unskillful in that regard he embarrasses every person suggested for the position. In everyone’s view, his intention is revealed obviously that he is not trying to choose the right person but a person with whom people cannot find fault. If a person is selected in this way, he is apt to be treated as an incapable person even if he is capable.
This is the first government that I have ever seen wasting time selecting a person and then wasting time again letting the selected person leave. How much time does this government spend carrying out its duties? This is not the only case.

* The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Chang-kyu
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