[Outlook]Acting on all the words

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[Outlook]Acting on all the words

As the new year has just begun, a series of important meetings are being held. There have been meetings to discuss ways to resolve the economic crisis and meetings of over 300 military commanders. One economic contingency meeting was even held in the bunker of the Blue House, which is, by the way, designed to be safe from a nuclear bomb.

The government is showing that it has jumped into the fray in order to deal with the economic crisis without hesitation. You can feel the urgency of war. I hope these meetings will produce measures that can earn public support and lead to tangible achievements.

During World War II, United States forces were crushed in Tunisia by Germany’s Erwin Rommel. The U.S. then sent General George Patton to the battlefield. Upon arrival, Patton went about establishing discipline and order among U.S. troops. His first order was that the troops dress properly, with ties. Days later Patton saw even privates sporting ties and was sure that order had been achieved. He then used precise orders to command the troops on the front line. The result was one of the most outstanding military achievements in the history of war.

Patton’s style confirmed that remarkable achievements come from detailed planning, unified organization and good leaders who take initiative and examine where the fight is going to be.

Meanwhile, will policies supported by the people always produce good results? There are plenty of examples in which they didn’t. Policies are made with only the experience and knowledge of a few people. Thus, it is hard to handle all the potential problems of the entire Korean population. At meetings, policymakers listen to the wisdom of experts. As the wide range of expert experience in different fields is added to the process, it becomes unclear which party should take responsibility. In many cases, policies turn out to be very different from what was originally planned.

Government policies are to be carried out by local governments and public organizations which have different interests and different levels of enthusiasm. Responsibility often lies with those who are not familiar with the content of policies. They create roundabout ways of putting policies into practice in efforts to avoid complaint or criticism and to be able to pass on responsibility.

Results are difficult to verify, as it is hard to know when the smaller branches actually understand the core concepts of central government policies. Thus, consensus among parties linked along the policy execution line is more important than anything else.

A policy that produces the best result is the best policy. Achievements, however, do not come from the words of policy makers, but from action by workers in the field. To produce good outcomes, the government must present concrete objectives, offer sufficient manpower, entrust duties to people in the field, and follow up by verifying results. There is a saying that 5 percent of a good strategist’s work consists of giving orders, and 95 percent is supervision.

The government has spent its first year practicing and conducting drills. In the early stages of the economic crisis, it didn’t present appropriate measures.

It said it would handle the situation with effective, pre-emptive measures, but it spent too long reorganizing itself. Major posts still sit empty and many public organizations are still being restructured without direction. In some public organizations, leaders remain in office even after submitting letters of resignation, and there is no one to take responsibility. You can’t expect too much from such organizations.

Workers at banks still feel too insecure to follow government policies, and government employees still don’t understand the policies thoroughly.

The state budget of 3.7 trillion won ($2.68 billion) was released on New Year’s Day, in the swiftest and most aggressive way in history. But no one knows when the money will be supplied to the people.

As the government declared that it would try its best to overcome the crisis as swiftly as possible, it should do more than just having meetings and briefings. It must solve problems in the field and offer necessary help. It should make the civil workers involved understand what is going on and establish an organization to check the end results in the field. To make policies produce tangible results, the government must prepare an environment in which it can work with private organizations.

Lengthy meetings at the central government waste time in which workers in the field could take action. In order to increase the chances of success, meetings should be brief.


*The writer is a professor of rural systems engineering at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Jung-jae
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