[FORUM]Roh must trust finance ministerMany experts forecast our economy will go through rough waters this year, much as it did last year. Several foreign investment companies including the Asia Development Bank have predicted our economic growth rate to stop at less than 4 percent. However, signs of an economic recovery are appearing quicker than expected, and it is a relief that consumer and investor sentiment has greatly improved.
I asked those around me to name three government officials whom they felt were responsible for this economic recovery. They named Labor Minister Kim Dae-hwan, former Finance Minister Lee Hun-jai and President Roh Moo-hyun in that order. Mr. Kim is a former scholar with a pro-labor tendency, and he is credited with stabilizing labor-management relations and relieving the concerns of the businesses by strictly adhering to law and order and conducting a consistent set of labor policies.
Former Finance Minister Lee had left such achievements that even the president was sorry to let him go, but allegations of real estate speculation involving Mr. Lee’s wife became too prominent for the minister not to step down. This also seems the reason why he was named second to Mr. Kim.
The people who chose President Roh as the third person to contribute to the recent economic recovery seem to hold a complex set of sentiments raging from praise to reproach. While giving points to the president for having announced at the end of last year that he would concentrate solely on the economy, they also seem to reproach him for taking too long to become more prudent in his speeches and thus get rid of uncertainties.
Some changes have occurred to the trio that had supported the improvement in our economic environment. Mr. Lee has stepped down, and Han Duck-soo has taken his place. Many people are worried and anticipating at the same time whether the newly appointed Mr. Han would be able to carry the barely recovering economy and put it back on track for good. It seems that the president had the same concerns because when he handed the letter of appointment, he requested that Mr. Han keep up the recent pace consistently and to leave new projects to the latter half of the year when the economy has been revived.
The new deputy prime minister and finance minister will have enough in his hands just to maintain consistency. First, he must start with the job of filling the empty shoes of his predecessor. Although Mr. Han is not from the finance ministry, he must learn to control the ministry and proceed to control the entire group of economy-related agencies. He must win the trust of the domestic and international markets as well as investors as promptly and as securely as his predecessor had. There is also the concern that the political circles and radical progressive forces, which had been silent on the economy until now due to the recession and the authority of the former finance minister, will try to intervene in the economy once again. It is the duty of the new finance minister not to bow down to pressure at this point with the by-elections around the corner. Domestically, he must face urgent tasks such as alleviating the polarization of the economy, creating new jobs, enhancing competitiveness and tackling credit delinquency. Internationally, Mr. Han must face the high oil price and the revaluation of the won while compromising on the opening of the market and the free trade agreements at the same time.
These tasks are too big for Mr. Han to solve by himself. What is most important at this time is the absolute trust of the president in his new finance minister. The Roh administration has learned this lesson through trial and error. The first finance minister, Kim Jin-pyo, appointed by the president had a difficult time because he didn’t get along with the Blue House staff. On the other hand, Mr. Lee, who followed Kim Jin-pyo, had the total trust and support of the president and was able to display his ability sufficiently and thus improve the economic environment. There supposedly had been disagreements in the selection process of Mr. Han, but this is all the more reason why the president must show confidence in his new finance minister. In order to save the economy, the president must follow the age-old rule in personnel management. “If you don’t trust them, don’t use them. If you use them, trust them.”
* The writer is the dean of the Business Administrative School at Myongji University and an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Roh Sung-tae