Prime minister dutiesPresident-elect Lee Myung-bak talked yesterday about the duties of the prime minister in his new administration. He said the prime minister is not an assistant to the president, but has his or her own duties and will work inside and outside the country. He also announced that the Blue House’s duties will be mediation and the administration will have the cabinet at its center. This is an advanced way to run an administration. The question is what concrete measures will make the prime minister’s duties more practical.
There has been criticism that in Korea a prime ministers’ duties are vague. Korea’s prime minister is different from that of France, who has executive power in the semi-presidential system, or from a vice-president in the United States, who is an important assistant to the president. The Korean Constitution states that a prime minister is appointed by the president and supervises government ministries. That sounds like a prime minister is a top position in which he reports to only one person and oversees the rest. But that has not been the case throughout history, because presidents controlled the cabinet. Thus, a prime ministers’ power was decided not by the law but by the president. There have been 38 prime ministers in Korea. If a president allowed some power, a prime minister could have power. Kim Jong-pil, Kang Young-hoon, Lee Hoi-chang and Lee Hae-chan were examples of that case. If a prime minister did not have power, he merely served as a figure-head. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Goh Kun was an administrative figure who was not from the political world.
The current position of prime minister must be used wisely as long as we do not change our system into a semi-presidential format or create a vice-president’s position. A prime minister must take care of the cabinet and orchestrate policies involving multiple ministries.
A prime minister also must look into details that the president cannot attend to. If the president-elect wants, the new prime minister might be able to explore a new frontier, such as making diplomatic efforts to secure energy resources.
What is important is a president’s perception of the job. A president must not appoint a person for image and then fire him when problems arise.
The new president does not need to worry about hiring a prime minister for image or for a gesture of reconciliation. A prime minister is a position with duties, not a front.