[OUTLOOK]Let favoritism have its place

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[OUTLOOK]Let favoritism have its place

A renowned doctor once suggested that elderly people stricken with cancer give up the idea of defeating the disease, and choose instead to live peacefully with it. The elderly have a greater chance of developing cancer, but if the cancer is not fast-growing, he said, it is better to try to live with it than to undergo drastic therapy in an attempt to stop it.
The best idea, he said, was to approach the problem with tenacity, moderation and a long-term viewpoint. That seems to be a profound principle, one that comes from a great deal of experience indeed. Couldn’t it be applied to the domestic political issues of real estate speculation and the president’s loudly criticized “parachute appointments?”
The president is trying to cut out the deep-seated disease that is real estate speculation. He is resolute in his methods, but we are concerned about the possible side effects.
Since there is only a subtle difference between investment and speculation, trying to remedy the latter can freeze the atmosphere and kill the real estate business. Fewer houses are built, which causes a rise in housing prices and, eventually, real estate speculation.
Speculation is bound to happen when there is social uncertainty and a lot of money in circulation. Real estate speculation dies hard; people know this from years of experience. And so a harsh real estate policy produces adverse effects.
It would be better to approach the problem by thinking of it as something that can always exist. It should be handled not combatively, but with patience and steady resolve. The surest approach is to let the excess money in circulation find its own way out, and let the unsettled social atmosphere calm down.
Much the same goes for the president’s issues with “parachute appointments,” which are given as rewards to political associates. Of course, it would be better if there were no such favoritism. But that is hardly possible. In a country where a new administration is elected every five years, how could the best person always be selected for every post? A practical personnel policy would begin with the premise that political appointments are inevitable.
To lead an administration, a president needs to be able to make appointments for a variety of reasons. He may be politically indebted to some people. He may have to appoint some people for strategic reasons, thinking about the future. But even so, he should not make appointments that are so unsuitable that they shake the foundation of the country.
The president should find a way to appoint the people he wants to appoint without inflicting damage on the nation. This is a difficult, delicate task, but carrying out such tasks well is the very essence of political skill. Even in more advanced countries, appointments are often made for political reasons, but without causing such troubles. What, then, should the president do from now on?
First of all, when he makes appointments for political reasons, the president should make a distinction between those who get a real role in government and those who get a stipend. Some government jobs require only a competent person, but others call for someone with real managerial capability. It is hard to say this openly, but most people know which positions are important ones and which are not.
Yet the importance of these positions is always changing. Prior to former President Chun Doo Hwan’s Fifth Republic, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (now the Ministry of Information and Communication) and the Ministry of Transportation (now the Ministry of Construction and Transportation) were places where appointees without much talent could be assigned without doing any harm. But now they are essential ministries. At present, the Korea Electric Power Corporation, the Korea National Railroad and the Korea Broadcasting System are agencies where truly creative managers are needed, because of both their size and their importance. Arbitrary appointments at these state-run corporations could do too much damage.
Of course, even now, there are positions that require nothing more than hard work. Political appointments should be limited to these posts.
Giving out such jobs as political favors would cause no major problems. Taxpayers’ money might be wasted, but no important matters of state would be fouled up. If it is inevitable that political appointments will be made, it would be best to create positions that pay salaries but entail no authority.
During the Fifth Republic, a number of directors’ posts were created to address this problem. The directors received handsome stipends, but they were not allowed to participate in management. They were also prohibited from lobbying. Righteous individuals serving in the present administration completely abolished these positions. But wasn’t it more sensible to establish those powerless positions than to waste tens of billions of won, even hundreds of billions, by giving incompetent people important things to do?
The scale of national projects these days has become so huge that when a mistake is made, the losses can be astronomical. So if political appointments are inevitable, the president should find a way to make those appointments in a systematic manner that minimizes the damage.
Directors could be reintroduced at public corporations, or special advisory posts could be created. There would be costs to the public, to be sure, but perhaps it would be comforting to think of them as insurance premiums to prevent much bigger losses.

* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ibo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Woo-suk
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