[Viewpoint] It’s time to select the right people

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[Viewpoint] It’s time to select the right people

President Lee Myung-bak is having a hard time over personnel affairs. A rumor swirled earlier that there would be key changes to his cabinet on Aug. 15, but that decision appears to have been delayed. Since it takes time to make decisions over minor affairs in order to get things right, it’s understandable that reshuffling the cabinet could not be done quickly.

Two months have passed since the rumor began to spread. There has since been little word on whether or not the information was accurate. Negative side effects have already filled the void as the ruling party, the government and the Blue House wait for word on possible changes.

The head of a certain public corporation keeps busy by reading tea leaves. He wastes time seeking news from cabinet meetings and analyzing practically anything the president says or does, instead of working on restructuring of his own organization.

He’s not alone. Things are more or less the same in every ministry, particularly those whose leaders might be on the chopping block. Ruling party members who expect to be employed as ministers are limbering up. Some say that more than a few presidential secretaries suspect where they will be assigned and have already packed their bags.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to expect them to work diligently and for state affairs to run without a hitch.

It’s clear that this time the president wants to make the right decision. His past appointments have frequently come under fire for having been overly influenced by his brother, for employing cronies, or for being reserved for the club of the well-off. Some questionable appointments helped fuel a national panic over imported U.S. beef. And some say that flaws in personnel affairs stoked the outpouring of mourning over the death of former President Roh Moo-hyun.

Local elections are scheduled for next June. After that, the second phase of Lee’s term starts. It’s likely that arguments for the revision of the constitution will be tossed into the mix.

Considering all of this, only about a year is left for the incumbent administration to make some real achievements. A lot is at stake. The president needs to avoid any more blundering over cabinet selections.

The problem is, however, that solutions to personnel affairs are becoming more and more complicated over time. There was a rumor that a figure from the Chungcheong provinces would be picked as prime minister. Another held that Park Geun-hye would be so employed. Naturally, debate rages over whether a pro-Lee or pro-Park figure should fill the post.

Another rumor spread that a figure from the ruling party would enter the cabinet. Matters are so intertwined and entangled that it is hard to figure out what is going on. When things are this complicated, a quick and resolute decision is called for.

But to first make such a swift decision, a goal must be defined. Is the goal to change current state affairs, to better integrate people of the ruling party circle, or to facilitate some practical purpose?

We already know the answer.

A reshuffle must be for practical reasons. It is already too late to change the standing of state matters. And a cabinet reshuffle is absolutely not necessary to integrate personalities of the ruling party circle.

The discord between the pro-Lee and pro-Park sides is too deep to be resolved by simply employing figures from both sides. It will be quicker and more effective to resolve the issue through political measures.

A reshuffle for practical purposes must create a clear national direction. Since the administration has set moderate pragmatism and a populist policy as major themes, it must focus on them. It must pick people who embrace these goals. If needed, Lee could even hire leftist intellectuals as ministers.

Personnel affairs in the early stage of the former Kim Dae-jung administration can serve as a good example. As the Kim administration handled personnel affairs together with its partner, the United Liberal Democrats, it could not always make the decisions it desired. The ULD hired people for the economy ministry and most of them were from the right wing.

Kim Han-gill, who served as the senior presidential secretary for social policy, was constantly displeased with this result. He later proclaimed that it “was a mistake to employ figures who did not share the administration’s ideology as ministers. Ministers ignored the administration’s philosophy, claiming that they were experts, or maintained that the market was critical. It would have been better if the ruling party members had taken the posts in the economic bodies.”

However, the general public has a different evaluation.

People believe that the right wingers were a great help in overcoming the foreign exchange crisis. In short, personnel affairs that help the administration do not always help state affairs, and vice versa.

Having the correct personnel on board is vital for good communications. Though the current administration emphasizes good communications, it is not very skilled in this area. It should be.

If the right people are hired, they will communicate with one another naturally. People understand and communicate better with the president directly - as opposed to watching him buy street food from a vendor or listening to his radio speeches or news programs.

People know instantly whether new people are hired because they are close to the president, are competent or are from a certain region. Making the right personnel decision up front is much better than shouting a hundred times that one is populist.

The writer is the economic news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

by Yi Jung-jae
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