[Viewpoint]Early mornings at the ministry

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[Viewpoint]Early mornings at the ministry

President Lee Myung-bak receives regular briefings from ministries and government agencies. The briefings take place on Saturday as well, usually at 7:30 am. The Ministry of Gender Equality debriefed the president on March 22, and the Ministry of Public Administration and Security made its Saturday morning report on March 15. Ministers and civil servants alike are experiencing hardship because of the early bird president.
Briefings are sometimes held at local offices to show residents how the president practices hands-on pragmatism, but some think the real purpose behind those briefings are the upcoming general elections. Efficiency is questionable when dozens of government officials leave the main office and travel to local areas for briefings.
Going to all this trouble is understandable as long as the briefings include substantial contents. Let’s look at the examples of three ministries.
First, Minister of Gender Equality Byun Do-yoon gave a briefing on Saturday using the theme “women-driven future and equal society.” Minister Byun chose a decent topic but lacked new or specific ideas. Abolishment of the Ministry of Gender Equality has been proposed before.
While Byun could have used the opportunity to make an argument for why the ministry needs to be continued, she instead made a slip of the tongue.
Over the case of a rat’s head found in a pack of shrimp crackers, she said that when she was at the Ministry of Labor, she heard that fried rats are good for health.
Even if she was joking, her rhetoric was enough to embarass people.
Second, Minister of Education, Science and Technology Kim Doh-yeon gave a briefing on reviving education and strengthening science and technology on March 20 in Daejeon.
The citizens had high hopes for him since the government emphasizes a competitive edge in education and declared that it would cut private education costs by half.
Yet, the briefing did not address the reinforcement of English education in the public school curriculum or the operation of 100 independent private schools.
It was limited to the basic discussion of expanding English classes, preparing the legal grounds to do so by the end of the year and expanding science research.
The minister’s leadership on establishing a teacher evaluation system was especially disappointing.
The teacher evaluation system was an issue pursued during the Roh Moo-hyun administration but it did not take off because the National Assembly did not pass the bill.
But the minister’s briefing was confined to preparing legal grounds to implement a test evaluation system.
The self-proclaimed engineer failed to propose solid plans on how to solve complicated problems in education and science.
Third, Environment Minister Lee Maan-ee gave a briefing on March 21 in Gwangju.
He was made a minister after the previous niminee resigned due to alleged real estate speculation.
He claimed that 350,000 new jobs can be created by helping environmental companies grow to a 67 trillion won ($66 billion) industry and helping it claim 7 percent of the 965 trillion won international environmental market by 2012.
With the economy so sluggish, it was a tempting proposal.
He listed several action plans. Nevertheless, they were merely a catalog of rosy promises such as increased investment in research and development, strengthening domestic demand and assisting advancement overseas.
On the urgent issues such as abiding by obligatory greenhouse gas reductions, he proposed “maintaining current emission levels” as a countermeasure.
President Lee must have been frustrated as well when he said, “When I receive briefings from various ministries, I see how civil servants understand problems. However, they cannot put solutions into practice. A road map is not so important in the new administration. What we need is an action plan, not redundant discussions.”
He is right about that.
Yet, the ministers and the civil servants seem to be having trouble switching to a new mode. The briefings are to continue this week.
The ministers have yet to move the hearts of the people even though they report early on weekdays and work weekends.
What’s important is not form but substance. Civil servants will change their behavior when ministers provide a good example.
Citizens are closely watching ministers whose appointments were controversial.

*The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Young-yu
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