[OUTLOOK]Too early to congratulate KwonIn this age of sudden change, starting off as a grade-5 civil servant and rising to the rank of deputy prime minister is worth complimenting oneself on. It must be said that such a person must possess a good combination of luck, ability and promptness for this to be realized.
However, it is still early to congratulate the new finance minister Kwon O-kyu as his work conditions are not in his favor. A method to escape Korea’s difficult economic situation is first necessary. However, such a method is hard to find. One of the obstacles is the government’s official position that states that the Korean economic condition is fundamentally healthy, yet there are some minor problems in the livelihood of the people. This limits any full-fledged policies to insert life in the economy.
For Mr. Kwon to do his job, it is essential to have the strong support of the president, teamwork by the economic team and the cooperation of the National Assembly, especially the ruling party. Currently, none of the mentioned conditions are at satisfactory levels. Rather than concentrating power with the finance minister, they are busy diversifying it. There are also too many critics that speak out but take no responsibility. This is why few people believe the finance minister is calling the shots when it comes to economic policies. Perhaps his appointer thinks the same.
It has been a long time since the teamwork of the government’s economic team crumbled. The finance minister’s weekly meetings with the president earlier in this administration helped maintain his authority, but they were discontinued quite a while ago.
In order to oversee the nation’s economic policy, the economic team must be organized by the policy position of the finance minister. But these days, it is questionable as to whether Mr. Kwon even has a position on economic policies. His recent comments have too often collided with his past words and actions. Because Korean society is relatively close-knit, it is easy to find out how a person acted and spoke prior to taking a high position. Saying something that goes against one’s beliefs due to one’s position is likely to be tough on a person, but it is more confusing for the people who hear the comments. This is certainly not an exception with the new deputy prime minister.
A clear logic exists in the sequence of economics. The direction required in the future is also obvious. An analysis of economic state should come first, with reactions following. If one takes on the role of a nation’s deputy prime minister, the person bears the responsibility of relaying the actual situation to people and changing policies so that they head in the correct direction.
Since the newly appointed minister has won the trust of many people and supposedly understands the philosophy behind current government affairs, we place our hopes in Mr. Kwon.
In a recent episode, there were many high-ranking government officials at a funeral when a former deputy prime minister arrived to pay his respects to the deceased late at night. Once he took a seat, however, nobody approached to greet him. Upon suggesting that some of his former subordinates should talk with him, they responded by saying they had never considered the man a minister and that he should give up trying to enjoy further prosperity by coming to such events and be satisfied with having reached the level of deputy prime minister. Even considering that the conversation took place under the influence of alcohol, it was a scary one.
The fact that the finance minister has a difficult task is not recent news. In fact, it was even worse in the past. Deputy Prime Minister Jang Gi-yeong, who is well remembered as a competent economic chief from Korea’s development period, established a “submersion prevention countermeasure committee” upon assuming office. It’s mission was to urgently repair the Korean economy and save it from the likelihood of “sinking.” In some ways, the situation then resembles our current economic situation. Mr. Jang quickly moved into action and also asked the economy-related ministers for action by writing down a Chinese saying, “it is useless to meet without discussion. Holding discussions but failing to come up with conclusions is also useless. The worst is agreeing on a conclusion and not following it up with action.” In other words, he loathed actionless discussions and stressed finding a solution for the sinking ship that was Korea.
Too often, Mr. Kwon has said that he would not seek artificial measures to boost the economy. But we are not asking for him to forcibly improve the economy, only to straighten out the direction in which it is headed before any further damage is done.
As a man who has worked hard throughout his life, we hope that Mr. Kwon does not face criticism from his juniors at a funeral in the future.
* The writer is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Choi Woo-seok