[OUTLOOK]Where is the reform, Mr. Roh?President Roh Moo-hyun hung out the flag of reform at the beginning of the year and said, “Let’s serve the people by creating a capable government and have our salaries paid for what we have done.”
However, looking at the way things are going now, the goal of a capable government is far away, and it rather makes me wonder whether payments to the president should be stopped first. I feel like asking the president whether he feels like accepting wages given the state of the country he has made.
It seems like yesterday that the president boasted that the economy had totally recovered. However, let’s look at the way things are now. The situation is so serious that some fear an economic “double dip” slump.
The president thinks that all he has to do is to deal with real estate speculation. But the more he talks about the real estate market, the more real estate transactions disappear and the higher the prices of properties rise ― a strange phenomenon.
To make matters worse, the cost of housing in Gangnam in southern Seoul that the government has tried to control is rising even more, while housing prices in Gangbuk in northern Seoul have been falling. On top of that, the government’s determination at the beginning of the year to put all its efforts into the economy disappeared long ago, like the determination of a chain-smoker trying to quit smoking.
The president stakes everything he has on reform. That is why he made numerous roadmaps in 2003, his first year in office, and put an emphasis on the development and expansion of reform in 2004. He said that in his third year in office he would create a reform manual and adapt it to reality to show actual results. Yet what is the reality that we face right now? Is this a capable government? Is this reform?
Systemic reform is nowhere to be found. Everything is chaotic. The committees that were created to advise the president made many big mistakes by taking measures on their own as if they were executive departments. Is it reform when the president gives an order directly to his secretary in charge of personnel affairs, twice treating him to breakfast at the presidential mansion, to establish a plan to develop the southeast coastal area, even though the person declined to accept the offer? This is why people criticize the present government, calling it an amateur government.
Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric Co., wrote in his recent book “Winning” that if a team is to win, “first, you need to have the best players. Second, don’t use your head too much to make it incapable of doing anything more.”
Then what about our participatory government? Do they have the best players? There is probably not one person who can nod in agreement to this. But the government uses its head in a lot of cunning ways. The government stresses balanced national development all the time, although it is obvious that this is just a temporary method to gloss over public sentiment.
There have been complaints about “inhospitality” toward the southwestern, or Honam, region since the early days of the administration, and the minds of Honam people totally turned away in March 2003 when an investigation of the cash-for-summit scandal was launched by special prosecutors. It was probably because of this urgent situation that the president urged Chung Chan-yong, his personnel affairs secretary, who hails from the Honam region, to be in charge of the southwest coastal area development plan from mid-2003 as a part of a plan to ease the angry sentiment of Honam people. And this is what led to the Haengdam resort development project scandal.
If the intention was purely for the balanced development of the nation, the president should have called Sung Gyung-ryoong, chairman of the Presidential Committee on Balanced National Development, to do the job. In the end, the Haengnam project seems to be an unwanted child born under a scheme to turn back the hearts of Honam people, in the same way that the president turned the hearts of residents of the Chungcheong provinces during the legislative elections by promising the transfer of the capital.
Miscellaneous events are bound to get in the way when you promote a scheme. Flies get into the ointment, and make things confusing because the whole thing is unclear and has another purpose of its own. The reason why the Haengdam development project, which does not exist in the Honam area, could be cleverly disguised with names like S Project or J Project to make it sound like a pilot project of the southwest coastal area development plan, was because it was a scheme from the start. The chairman and section chief of the Presidential Committee on Northeast Asian Cooperation Initiative most likely got involved because they read the mind of the president.
It is in such a climate that the domination of those close to the president grows strong. Projects that are not feasible when we judge them under normal conditions are hard to accomplish through a normal system. Therefore, it is actually those who are influential and close to the president who come forward with “the presidential will.” The reason why systems disappear and a rule-of-thumb method is used is because they have a strong will to absolutely follow the president no matter what. In the end, the system crumbles and individual reign is all that remains.
Many people had a last thread of hope for the president, saying things would get better with time and experience. If things were to get better, they probably would have gotten better around now, which is halfway through his time in office. The people are tired of waiting. Is the president going to make us wait the other half of his term in office, for him to step down?
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong