[OUTLOOK]It’s not too late for administrationYesterday was Cheoseo, one of Korea’s 24 traditional seasonal divisions, which falls roughly at the end of August every year. Around this time, farmers take a brief break from their busy work during summer to clean their tools and sort them out. There is a saying that if it rains on Cheoseo, farmers will have a poor harvest. It did not rain yesterday, so farmers may feel a little relieved after having gone through a hard time due to the heavy rains and floods of summer.
For this administration, these days are like the Cheoseo of its five-year term. It is time to sort out things it has been working on and to finalize them in order to have as rich a harvest as planned.
The other day, at a meeting with journalists, President Roh Moo-hyun asked “What did I do wrong?” thus expressing his uncomfortable state of mind. His rhetoric was direct as usual and one could sense his stubbornness in trying not to accept any opposition.
We do not know how fair and strict a measurement Mr. Roh used in evaluating himself before asking that question. I just hope that he understands that other people do not give him high credit as he wishes and that they are worried over the remaining one-and-a-half years of his term.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry used to estimate the rice harvest for each year on Aug. 15 but it stopped doing so because it realized the rice harvest varies a great deal depending on conditions after that date, because of the climate here.
This applies also to this administration that has just passed its Cheoseo. Although the estimated harvest seems poor for now, there is plenty of time to produce more as long as it does a great job from this season. What matters is what it does during the rest of its term. The administration might ask what shortcomings it has for now, but that will not help if it denies its failures or wrongdoings, which were clearly shown through the results of local elections and polls.
The administration should not start new measures or projects when it is already pushing too many. It is best to focus on a few measures that are likely to work. The signing of a free trade accord with the United States and a reform of the national pension are two of these.
A free trade agreement with Washington is a stepping stone to build momentum for Korea’s economy. Korea’s current industries have hit a wall, as seen in their growth without employment. To overcome this problem, we need to turn to the service industry. We should enhance competitiveness in the service industry, just like we did for our manufacturing industries. This won’t be easy. However, this is the new challenge we need to face and overcome. Giving up an opportunity for overall development for fear of the results of opening doors or of fierce competition is not only stupid but also an irresponsible act for the future of our country.
Meanwhile, the national pension is the basic outline on which individual citizens plan their lives. As our society ages, planning one’s life becomes increasingly important. In these circumstances, if the national pension system, a basic factor in the planning, is not settled, one cannot plan for additional factors.
All have long known that the current national pension program will soon be unable to pay out to citizens, but the government has hesitated to do anything for too long a time.
Even if a reform of the basic frame of the national pension program means reduced benefits and even though this will bring complaints from people, the government should try to find the best possible way to resolve the program’s problems and persuade people to accept the changes.
In this sense, the government should get credit for having decided to work on the two toughest tasks facing Korea. Although some people have already become skeptical about these issues, I want to believe that the administration genuinely intends to achieve its two goals.
I believe if the Roh administration achieves either of these goals it would be able to say proudly that it has achieved this difficult job, and expect a positive future evaluation. Although it will take a long time before historical judgment is made, the Chun Doo-hwan administration will be credited for stabilizing commodity prices. The Kim Young-sam administration may be remembered for its efforts to get rid of a group of military officials-turned-politicians who had committed corrupt and undemocratic acts under military rule. The Kim Dae-jung administration will likely be credited for the summit meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea.
The Roh administration has already launched two major tasks of historic value. It still has the time to finalize them. The result depends on the administration’s willpower. I hope to see clear evidence of that will.
* The writer is the chief of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Park Tae-wook