[GLOBAL EYE]When amateurs take the reins

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[GLOBAL EYE]When amateurs take the reins

In terms of administrative style, it is more appropriate to call the Roh Moo-hyun administration a “committee-oriented government” than the “participatory government” it claims to be. Presidential committees existed in former administrations, of course, and the Roh administration added only five more. But they have been given completely different roles and degrees of influence.
Lee Jung-woo, chief of the presidential policy planning committee, has admitted that the “participatory government” is a complex matrix of 25 ministries and 12 presidential advisory committees. He argued that this system is an open-minded, participation-oriented government, in which the scholars on the committees and the bureaucrats in the ministries debate and cooperate over the future of the nation. He called it a new prototype for state management, and said that “the committees are the future of the nation.”
Many developed nations have gotten good results from such committees, and Mr. Lee predicted that future historians would evaluate the collaboration between ministries and committees as the major achievement of the Roh administration. But is he right?
The committee-oriented state administration could be called “adhocracy,” from the Latin saying “ad hoc,” which literally means “for this,” and which is now used to refer to something that has been put together for a specific, one-time purpose. Instead of entrusting a specific national task to the existing bureaucratic structure, President Roh depends on ad hoc committees. Harvard University Professor Roger Porter, who served as Director of the White House Office of Policy Development during Ronald Reagan’s administration, coined the term “adhocracy” to describe the administrative style of former President Bill Clinton.
When bureaucrats are passive about reform and territorialism between ministries is prevalent, a committee-oriented administration has its merits. But the fewer the committees, the clearer their tasks and the shorter their terms of existence, the more effective such a system is likely to be. When committees become institutionalized, standing organizations, they are bound to hold sway over the ministries, bearing the president’s authority as they do.
It is said that the Roh administration’s committees focus on the discussion and drafting of policy, and that the execution of policy is the task of the ministry. But the Haengdam island development episode illustrated the situation that the committees go beyond their advisory mandate; they give orders to ministries, oversee the ministries’ planning and trespass on the ministries’ territory, that of executing policy.
As they take the logic of a situation into account, they produce inconsistent policies, and bureaucrats become discouraged. Moreover, in the discussions among scholars, bureaucrats and civic group leaders, amateurish idealism often gains the upper hand. There is a connection between the “policy recession” the economy is experiencing ― caused by the administration’s confused, inconsistent economic policy and that policy’s estrangement from reality ― and the committee-oriented nature of the government.
Moreover, the quality of government administration has declined in the last two years. A World Bank report that came out last month ranked Korea 84th in political stability, down 15 places from two years ago. In effectiveness of civil servants and administrative service, Korea fell from 38th to 42d. In quality of regulation, which measures how well government regulations correspond to market philosophies, Korea fell from 49th to 58th, and, in corruption control, from 65th to 78th.
Seoul National University professor Kim Kwang-woong takes this report as proof that the reform the Roh administration has advocated since early on has been ineffective. It is pitiful to see 12 committees struggling with 100 state tasks, buried under a pile of road maps. Bill Clinton’s “adhocracy” and overindulgence of debate undermined his own political life. When it comes to policy, results are more important than intentions. When the number of ad hoc committees increases, they become redundant. Eliminating what is unnecessary is the essence of government reform. When what we need are more professionals, the administration finds hope in amateurism. If it continues to experiment with state affairs, the Roh administration will be unable to escape history’s judgment that it was an eternal amateur.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Byun Sang-keun
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