[OUTLOOK]Professionalism sorely neededThe prices of apartments slated for reconstruction in Seoul’s Gangnam area, south of the Han River, are finally starting to show signs of stabilizing after all that escalation. It seems that the government’s strong regulations have had an effect.
This is quite a comfort for people like me who live in the Gangbuk area, north of the Han. Frankly, I was feeling a little jealous when the prices of Gangnam apartments soared as though they would reach the stratosphere. Across the river, people were yelling “One hundred million won ($100,000) higher! One hundred million higher!” while the value of my home wasn’t budging. That wasn’t just a feeling I had; it was a reality of the market.
But it is too early to be relieved. Prices in Gangnam are not moving for the time being, because they are being kept down by force. But they will rise again before long. It is only logical that they should do so. Because the supply has been artificially blocked, the demand for Gangnam housing continues to rise.
The one new town slated to be built in the Pangyo area is not enough to satisfy this demand. What’s more, the tighter restrictions on apartment reconstruction in the Gangnam area is only adding to the value of housing units there. There are plans to build many new cities in the Seoul metropolitan area, but people doubt whether they can replicate “the taste of Gangnam.”
A former high-ranking government official explained the situation this way: “Raising income taxes, or transfer and sale taxes, will not have much effect on the prices of Gangnam apartments, because the taxes will be reflected in the sale prices.
“In the end, it is other parts of the city that will be burdened, because the taxes will rise in those areas too,” this former official said. “This policy that claims to be for the neglected class will only make things more difficult for them.”
The present administration has announced more than 20 plans to deal with problems related to real estate speculation. Nevertheless, the prices of Gangnam apartments have climbed sky-high and continue to be a problem today. Now even the price of land is climbing.
Experts in real estate pity the government as it struggles fruitlessly with the problem. The government has good intentions, but it has no consistency. It’s no use treating the symptoms of the problem once things have already gone wrong. These misguided policies have unintended consequences that only make matters worse. This incompetence extends beyond real estate policy. All of the government’s core policies are untrustworthy and unstable. I wonder how much relief from overcrowding the metropolitan area will experience when the new administrative city is built, with its population of 500,000.
Is it not a contradiction that the government holds meetings about easing regulations on development in the Seoul area while claiming that it is promoting balanced development? The prime minister proclaimed that Korean companies would not be allowed to build new factories in the Seoul area, or expand existing ones. But this position was reversed overnight.
The government cannot be believed. If its policies are to be successful, it must persuade the people, but the administration has lost its power to do so as it drifts aimlessly around. Everyone worried about the possibility of amateurism when the present administration got underway. Are we seeing it now?
Its attitude is also a problem. The Board of Audit and Inspection was humiliated when the results of its investigation of the Korea National Railroad’s investment in a Russian oil project were mostly turned upside down by prosecutors. The central figure in the case fled overseas while the audit board clumsily brought the case to a close, announcing that it was a simple act of fraud by the railroad’s development chief and a few private citizens.
The board has had no response to the criticism that its investigation may have been designed to cover up the wrongdoing of certain figures. They should reflect on the matter and think about whether they really investigated the case with a professional attitude and their eyes wide open. The board later announced that it had uncovered instances of negligence on the part of local government employees. But who will investigate the negligence of the Board of Audit and Inspection?
Foreign affairs and national security specialists have even more concerns. The administration’s idea of playing the role of a balancer in Northeast Asia is a good one. Self-reliance is important. But these are ideas that we should nuture and develop privately. We only earn the scorn of the rest of the world by shouting about it without having thought it through.
We are asked whether provoking and alienating the United States, our long-time ally, was a victory for national pride. The vaguely worded agreement that came out of last week’s vice-minister level inter-Korean meetings; the rush of politicians to get a chance to attend next month’s commemoration of the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang ― they all smell of amateurism. They do not suggest a confident and experienced attitude.
Neither the president nor the prime minister can be a specialist in everything. That is not possible for anyone who isn’t a god. For a national leader, it is the better part of wisdom to treat his specialists with respect, and to give them the opportunity to put their heads together and come up with the best solutions to problems.
The leader who does this well lives up to the highest standards of his role. It requires tolerance, a sense of balance and a mild, sensible character. It does not call for a combative person, or someone who is good at winning elections. A leader who is too proud to consult a specialist, or who consults just one and then charges into battle based on his word, is a dangerous one.
In a hospital, finding an experienced nurse is a stroke of luck ― especially when one has to get a shot. Inexperienced nurses have a hard time finding the vein, and stick the needle here and there. (Just thinking about it is frightful.) A professional nurse, one who knows the right spot and inserts the needle just once ― that is the kind of government the people want.
* The writer is the chief of the JoongAng Ilbo’s editorial page.
by Heo Nam-chin