Old Man Four-RiversPresident Lee Myung-bak outlined plans to revamp his administration after suffering a political setback in local elections two weeks ago. He vowed to fix his policies in response to the public calls for connection, unity and reform. He said he will leave the Sejong City project up to a National Assembly vote, gather consensus on his controversial plan to restore Korea’s rivers, overhaul the bureaucracy and reshuffle his cabinet. Yet he insisted on staying consistent toward North Korean and security issues. “I will listen to the voice of our people represented in the election,” he said.
President Lee said he will realign the presidential office and the cabinet to enhance efficiency. The problem with the current system is a lack of communication. The government failed to fully explain and publicize the need to work on the four main rivers and also failed to react to public concern over the speed of the construction. The Blue House still has doubts about whether it is competently fulfilling its role as the president’s aide and publicity wing.
Presidential secretaries should supplement the administration’s efforts in specialized areas where the president lacks expertise, such as North Korea, unification and public consensus. The president must stretch beyond his familiar educational and religious background to seek new talent from a broader pool. In the cabinet, the share of public officials born in southern areas with degrees from Korea University at the vice ministerial and ministerial levels has been growing. The president should consider the public’s criticism in seeking out new talent and overhauling the governance system. He also must put his promises for reform and a reshuffle into immediate action. If he delays, the effect of the changes will be offset and he will only aggravate the conflict and confusion.
The president also called upon the ruling party to morph into a more “vibrant” party to be able to lead younger generations, suggesting his discontent with the Grand Nationals’ slow and intractable way of doing things. If the president literally was referring to the age of the people in the party, he would be suggesting a mere face-lift. To become “young and vibrant,” the spirit of the party must turn young, innovative and challenging to pursue policies and platforms according to the needs of the younger generation. Conservative Tories regained power in Britain not simply because their leader was in his 40s, but because they were bold enough to veer away from their traditional centrist and pragmatic approach and values. The younger members of the GNP, however, are as old-fashioned and conservative as their senior counterparts. They first must transform themselves, then lead change in the conservative party.