[Outlook]Lacking a crisis control tower

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[Outlook]Lacking a crisis control tower

President Lee Myung-bak is making efforts both inside and outside the country to overcome the global financial crisis that has struck Korea. He went to the National Assembly and delivered a speech urging the political circle to unify in order to battle the economic turbulence together. He is telling the people to feel confident, saying we are capable of getting through these troubled times.

Nobody disagrees with the notion that the whole country must work together to face the crisis. All the people and both the ruling and opposition parties must unite, not only for the current generation but also for those to come in the future.

The everyday people of our country are crying out in unison for the government to regain the faith of the public. Experts agree that the administration lacks a control tower that can oversee the entire government and present a cohesive direction to head for. They also say there is no focal point in the way that state affairs are being handled. They are suspicious when the government says it will overcome the crisis.

The incumbent government has been unorganized and lax since its very conception, when the presidential transition team was operating. There was no center at that time either, and as a result we saw incomplete policies being presented and no one to take responsibility for them.

While there was no set direction for governance of the state, the transition team focused on streamlining ministries. But there was no sufficient analysis of why the ministries needed to be streamlined or whether the administration would be able to carry out its duties with fewer branches.

Everybody was watching nervously. Then, forces that opposed the administration staged a long series of candlelight vigils, damaging the government in its early stage in office.

And still, the way we see the state being run lacks organization. Only the president seems anxious and busy; there are no central figures to be seen who can lead state affairs with confidence. The ruling party that is supposedly in control of the National Assembly is inconsistent and internally divided. And so, the people are still worried. In order to restore the trust of the people, the administration must remove such worries and prove that it has the ability to govern competently.

The reason for the chaos can be found in problems with the leadership, but the restructuring of the government also had fundamental flaws. The government is now smaller, but ministries that have been integrated don’t work smoothly. Different ministries have difficulties communicating with each other, and there is no control tower that can lead them.

As in former administrations, the ministries look to the president when it comes to figuring out what they should do, meaning all the burdens and risks are focused on him. Among the presidential aides, the chief of staff takes responsibility for everything that goes on in the presidential secretaries’ offices and the policy offices. As a result, he has far too much to be accountable for and the aide system doesn’t work efficiently.

As the presidential office handles state policies, the lack of organization creates serious problems. The incumbent administration is expected to focus on dealing with the crisis. Thus, it can’t leave policies entirely to administrative bodies. The office of the chief of staff should be actively involved. Therefore, the chief of staff and the chief of the office for policy must be separated. The role of each presidential secretary’s office should be enhanced as well. The information and policy monitoring office must be enlarged and its public relations and promotion functions must be enhanced.

In this way, the Blue House will become bigger and stronger. When the ruling party is divided, it can’t exert power as it should. But the Blue House should at least be enough for the people to trust it to take care of state affairs.

Making the government as small as possible isn’t everything. The size of the government should be dictated by the tasks it must perform and the situation inside and outside the nation. If the country works fine when much is left to the market, the government can be as small as possible. But in other cases, the government’s functions and size should be decided depending on the situation.

People say the government hasn’t found its feet as far as running state affairs yet. They say it must win the trust of the people, establish a control tower and employ competent people regardless of their ideology. They are right, and the government must heed this advice. It should change the way it governs and create a strong staff of competent and confident people to run the country. The structure of the administration must also be changed, if need be, before it is too late.

Now is the time to make decisive decisions in order to overcome the crisis.

*The writer is a professor of Constitution studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Chung Jong-sup
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