[Outlook]Fear of ghosts

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[Outlook]Fear of ghosts

People who have been tortured before are more afraid to get tortured than those who haven’t, because they know how terrible the pain is.

The Blue House is terrified for the same reason. It is haunted by the ghost of the candlelight rallies. This ghost, spawned by a misleading television program and fed by a series of bizarre rumors, has caused both the ruling party and the government to take leave of their senses. Instead of doing what they should be doing, they’re busy doing what they shouldn’t.

Despite the fact that the rumors and the TV program have been publicly discounted, the administration continues to be excessively cautious.

A recent example is reforms to the water supply services. Yim Tae-hee, a chief Grand National Party policy maker, said on Aug. 24 that the business responsible for water supply would be reformed, as it was running at a huge deficit. According to the plan, the water supply businesses will continue to be owned by local governments, but their management will be left to the private sector in order to increase efficiency. Yim added that the introduction of the legislation would be announced next month.

However, the next day, this plan was canceled by the GNP’s supreme committee. Grand National Party floor leader Hong Joon-pyo said that the leaders of the party agreed that electricity, gas and water supply services, along with health insurance programs, wouldn’t be privatized or left to the private sector for management.

Local governments produce a deficit of around 500 billion won ($510 million) from water supply services every year. This loss is then passed on to the taxpayers. It has long been known that the business must be reformed. Resistance forces emerged anyway, even though they knew that problems would worsen if nothing is done. While staging demonstrations, they made up a bizarre rumor about possible harm from privatizing the water supply services. The rumor claimed that the government planned to privatize water supply services, and if it did, people would have to pay up to 140,000 won per day for their water bill. It was an odd calculation, but it caused public fear nonetheless.

Yim judged that reforms of water supply services should be carried out despite resistance. Right after his announcement, some civic organizations claimed that it was the first step to privatizing water supply services. Hong gave in immediately.

As we endured a long series of candlelight vigils, such responses from civic organizations were no surprise. However, the GNP gave up without even trying to overcome the flimsy logic of the civic groups.

Another example is public corporation reforms. A significant number of unionized workers at public corporations who are opposed to reform attended rallies, and the Lee Myung-bak administration has since lost its willpower. The word “privatization” was suddenly replaced by “advancement.” But still, one didn’t want to believe the government lost its determination for reform.

The first plan, released on Aug. 11, handled only 41 public organizations of 319 potential targets. In a press release, the target was reduced to only 27 corporations, less than half of the 60 that the government examined before the rallies.

And that number was still overblown. Only six corporations were serious targets. The remaining 21 included the Korea Development Bank and its two subsidiaries, and the International Bank of Korea and its three subsidiaries, companies already in line for reforms.

Companies sponsored with public funds such as Daewoo Shipbuilding and Ssangyong Engineering and Construction were included just to inflate the number.

A plan to cut down corporate tax rates has also been postponed. The Ministry of Strategy and Finance announced in early June that it would reduce the highest corporate tax rates by up to 22 percent. Considering the shape of the economy, the ministry said the measure would go into effect in August. Singapore and China, our rival countries, also cut corporate taxes in the first half of this year. But the GNP, after taking two months off without opening the National Assembly, decided to delay the plan by a year. The highest corporate taxes are mostly applied to conglomerates.

The party said tax revenues earned by postponing tax cuts on conglomerates would be used to support financially troubled people. The president’s MB-nomics, i.e. cutting taxes to encourage corporate investment and in turn creating new jobs, were nowhere to be found. The Blue House, however, gave no explanation.

There is always opposition to new policies because there is no measure that can satisfy all the people at the same time. However, if a policy is for the general good, the government must persuade those who oppose it. It should do even more strongly when groups oppose a good policy just to protect their own interests.

However, the administration is so afraid of the slightest criticism that it isn’t working as it should. Its dereliction of duty is serious.

In the meantime, the government is doing things that it shouldn’t be.

It looks down on religions other than the one its members follow. Public corporations invite people from outside the organizations to apply to be their heads, but that is only out of formality. They continue to invite applicants until they find the one who they see fit. As a result, such corporations are without heads for several months.

The government even makes sure that executives and department managers in small financial corporations are favored by the administration. It says the goal is to remove those who were employed by the former administration.

One can’t shake off the thought that we have left state matters to those who have neither convictions nor philosophies.

*The writer is the economic news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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