Playing it safe, or cowardly?

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Playing it safe, or cowardly?

In an increasing number of cases, government policy appears to have fallen behind schedule. Even when decisions are reached, announcements have been delayed or scheduled briefings cancelled.

In addition to the introduction of for-profit hospitals, which was directly delayed by President Lee Myung-bak, the abolition of drug rebates and a new airport being developed in the southeast were similarly delayed. President Lee justified putting off the decision on for-profit health care by saying, “We need to search for ways to resolve the various issues we face. We have to take a careful approach toward this sensitive and delicate issue,” while the Finance Ministry and the Health Ministry failed to reach a consensus on the need for the new hospitals.

Understandably, it would be undesirable for this controversial issue to stir another nationwide controversy when we are still caught up in the debates surrounding Sejong City and the four rivers restoration project.

The announcement of measures to end drug rebates has been delayed for similar reasons. The Health Ministry is prepared to crack down on corruption in health care and explained this to lawmakers last Monday. A public announcement was scheduled for Tuesday but canceled at the last minute. Authorities reportedly said of the matter, “We must keep close watch on the developing situation, as it is bound to meet stiff resistance from pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.”

The Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs was scheduled to announce candidate areas for the new airport in the Yeongnam region in September but then suddenly suspended its efforts with the excuse that more investigation was still needed. But sources said the reality was quite different, with rumored reasons for the delay including a wish not to incite rivalries among lawmakers and regional governments in the candidate areas, compounding Korea’s regional problems.

We cannot pass the buck to the government for delaying its policy decisions. If any unexpected side effects occur, announcements ought to be delayed in spite of the schedule. It is natural that people should move with circumspection, because government policy exerts a huge influence on society and, once a decision has been reached, it is not always easy to change.

However, doubts expressed about the reasons for the delays come due to the government’s lack of conviction and organization. In particular, the government is likely to pass on responsibility itself when any delicate problems do occur. This makes the government appear irresponsible and incompetent. Although even policies that provide huge benefits for the nation are likely to create controversy, it would be better to persuade those opposed by appealing to their values and convictions. This is also a matter of trust for the government.
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