Lee needs a conveyor belt

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Lee needs a conveyor belt

The issue of communication, long a weakness of the Lee Myung-bak administration, was addressed at a recent cabinet meeting. “Policies must be coordinated meticulously among ministries and between the government and the ruling party so that we won’t appear to have differences over pending issues,” Lee said yesterday. “And after the coordination is over, it is important to have a unanimous voice.”

The lack of communication has been increasingly apparent. The Foreign Ministry and the Unification Ministry failed to coordinate their opinions over when to announce Korea’s participation in the United States-led Proliferation Security Initiative. The Knowledge Economy Ministry wanted to push forward tax benefits for the auto industry, while the Finance Ministry wanted to attach some conditions to the program. They had a tug-of-war.

The administration wanted the legislature to cut the capital gains tax for owners of multiple homes as soon as possible, but the ruling Grand National Party opposed the revision, making the discord public. The Justice Ministry and the ruling party rushed the passage of the law governing the new bar exam, but the plan was shot down by some opposition lawmakers. Recently, a new communications problem emerged in the Blue House offices regarding North Korea’s offer for talks. While the office of the senior secretary for foreign affairs asked the media to not report about it, the spokesman’s office knew nothing about the embargo. Key presidential aides in charge of national planning often face criticism for lack of communication.

Since last summer’s street demonstrations against the resumption of U.S. beef imports, communication has been a major byword of the Lee administration. The Blue House added a new aide in charge of public affairs, and ministries named deputy spokespersons. It is time for the president to pay attention to the communication issue. The problem, however, is that the president’s order is not sufficient. The government needs a system for smooth flow of communication, just like a conveyor belt in a factory.

During past administrations, senior officials of the administration and the ruling party held meetings almost every other day. Making decisions behind closed doors sometimes incurred problems, but the effectiveness of communication and coordination was great.

The Lee administration, however, does not have a control tower or a regular meeting between the administration and the ruling party. The president cannot meddle in every matter, and the office of the prime minister is too weak to perform such a role. In order to keep the flow of communication alive, the administration and the party must build a strong system.
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