The new government’s ‘to-do’ list is packed full

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The new government’s ‘to-do’ list is packed full

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Promise the moon and you better deliver it. Lee Myung-bak’s repeated pledges to revive and invigorate the Korean economy gave him a landslide victory and raised expectations that his leadership will be sufficient to produce great things during his presidency. He has set the bar very high.
With an emphasis on market-driven policies and massive pump-priming public works like his vision of a grand cross-country canal, he has promised to encourage open competition, ease government roadblocks and be relentlessly pragmatic in finding solutions to everything from speaking better English to becoming a financial hub for Asia.
Lee’s energetic transition team summarized the mission by subdividing the new administration’s scope of work into 192 tasks divided by priority into “core,” “important” and “general” tasks. The scheme reads like a corporate planning chart, with the implied message being that hard work and good planning will result in prosperity and effective government. It is emblematic of Lee’s own corporate background and strong work ethic.
This is a striking contrast from now-former President Roh Moo-hyun, who focused on balanced regional development, egalitarian education and a better relationship with Pyongyang as his main tasks. Roh also wanted to get to the bottom of the tragedies of modern Korean history through a truth commission and to make big companies more accountable.
Lee focuses on the present ― make the country more competitive in a globalized world by emphasizing better education, more efficiency and pragmatic ties with Washington, Tokyo and Beijing.
His first task is to build a lively market economy. He wants to encourage foreign investment, urge big companies to hire more and lift regulations that he says impede rapid growth, all in the name of reaching 7 percent annual economic growth during his term and creating 3 million new jobs.
To get there, his aides say that cutting taxes and revitalizing the sagging foreign investment climate should come first.
Carrying out these plans for so-called MB-nomics will be Lee’s No. 1 economic advisor, Kang Man-soo, who was chosen to head the Planning and Finance Ministry.
“I am planning to concentrate on creating the world’s best environment for enterprises by easing restrictions, developing financial business groups and creating better labor-management relations and a labor market governed by the rule of law,” Kang was quoted as saying by Lee Dong-kwan, the spokesman for the transition team and now the presidential spokesman, during a workshop led by President Lee last week. “In the long run, I am interested in reinforcing competitiveness in the service industry and increasing investment in high-value industries including culture, medicine, education and tourism.”
Among the plans, eliminating restrictions on the ability of manufacturing conglomerates to own financial institutions and privatizing the Korea Development Bank are high on the list. But Kang’s policy to assist small- and medium-sized companies has been pushed out to the “general tasks” group, the third ring of the administration’s planning structure, a move that seems to indicate Lee’s preference for aiding bigger companies, like the Hyundai Group where he was a star executive.
“We are concerned that Lee Myung-bak’s economic policies are centered around the giant conglomerates, with no consideration for smaller businesses,” said Lee Sang-jin, the communication officer at the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, a civic group that’s critical of the new administration’s plans.
Lee Myung-bak’s belief in a market-driven economy also influences his educational policies.
His controversial plan to strengthen English-language education in public schools is firmly rooted in making Korea more competitive globally, and that means hiring teachers who speak fluent English.
He also plans to give universities more autonomy over admissions and policies in order to force competition on the academic system.
The government tasks also include diversifying high school education, establishing a customized scholarship system, upgrading teachers’ skill levels and expanding vocational training.
“We can persuade and compromise but there will be no going back,” Lee was quoted as saying of how he will pursue these goals during a transition team meeting.
On social welfare, the market is also a force as Lee wants to help people with bad credit histories and to supply affordable housing, particularly for newlyweds.
On foreign policy, the new government wants more cooperation with the United States and more transparency in relations with North Korea, especially in the administration of the inter-Korean cooperation fund. Lee is also an advocate of a strong military and sees the defense industry as another economic growth engine.
All these tasks are to be carried out, the transition team has said, with a leaner, more service-oriented government that will run on a budget that will be reduced by 10 percent. Lee’s managers are also promising to root out corruption among civil servants.
All of this is a “new development system” that will “improve the economy and create national harmony,” said Lee Kyung-sook, the chairwoman of the transition team. “We did our best to implement what Lee Myung-bak promised during the campaign.”


By Lee Min-a Staff Reporter [mina@joongang.co.kr]
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