Frank debatesYesterday in his first cabinet meeting, President Lee Myung-bak showed he wanted to turn the cabinet sessions into a venue of vigorous debate. “Depending on the agenda brought to the table during the regular cabinet meetings, we can hold temporary sessions in the afternoon that can go on until late evening so that we can talk freely,” President Lee suggested yesterday.
He even remodeled the conference room for the meetings and placed his seat in the middle of the table, as during U.S. Cabinet meetings. To maintain security, he limited the number of ministers’ aides at the meeting. Instead, a new teatable appeared in the room, where the cabinet members now have to make their own tea.
Article 88 of the Constitution states, “The cabinet meeting deliberates important policies that fall under the government authority.”
So it is a constitutional duty that cabinet members participate actively in the debate over national administration.
But the reality was that they simply focused on approving laws. Only nine out of 100 times did former President Roh Tae-woo preside over the meeting, while former President Kim Young-sam did so six out of 100 times during his tenure.
Former President Roh Moo-hyun emphasized that the cabinet should debate more. But we’re uncertain whether the Roh Moo-hyun administration held meetings with substantial debates.
Although cabinet members could have used the cabinet meetings to make constructive criticism, Roh spent them making frivolous and irresponsible remarks that usually led to bigger trouble.
It was during these cabinet meetings that Roh suggested he would quit so he could level criticism at candidates for last year’s presidential election. There was no sound, active debate over media policy during these cabinet meetings.
Listening is what gives a debate life.
For cabinet members to actively talk, the president has to show that he is ready to listen.
He will also have to assure officials that they will not be disadvantaged if they oppose or criticize the president’s idea. Moreover, he should encourage those that offer constructive criticism.
President Lee takes a serious view of solving problems fast and reaching goals quickly.
The nation will watch how much he will listen and how generous he can actually be toward his aides who say no.