A good leader for Health MinistryOf the 16 government ministries, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is most connected with everyday life. Various ministry policies have a direct effect on the population, regardless of gender or age. The ministry is in charge of key policies addressing problems like the low birthrate, an aging society and the income gap.
It also often finds itself in hot water because of conflicts among different interest groups. One example is the conflict between doctors of Western and Eastern medicine, between doctors and pharmacists, and between pharmacists and consumers.
The health and welfare minister must take pains to keep a distance from the interest groups to be fair. He or she must also be qualified to oversee broad health and welfare affairs. But the job has mostly been given to politicians. Of the 21 ministers since the Kim Young-sam administration, 13 have come from the legislative branch, a ratio higher than at many other ministries. Presidents may have considered the position an easy job to give away to loyalists or aspiring politicians.
There is no reason that politicians should not take up seats in the cabinet. Political skills can aid policy makers in making quick decisions and pushing policies forward more efficiently. But the position should be bestowed onto those who go beyond their constituencies and parties and work to serve the nation’s interests. Those qualified for a cabinet seat should be capable of getting his or her work done instead of building a career.
Current Minister of Health and Welfare Chin Soo-hee served as the spokeswoman during Lee’s presidential election campaign and was part of his transition committee’s political affairs subcommittee. But many are questioning her qualifications for her post. She is said to have pledged support for the pharmacist community in Seoul amid growing consumer demands for selling cold medicine and other simple drugs in convenience stores and supermarkets. She has forgotten her public post by taking sides with an interest group from her constituency in Seoul.
Ministerial seats should not be regarded as rewards for loyalty to the president. The Health Ministry, especially, should be headed by someone who is well qualified, fair and sensitive to public needs.
Health care and welfare issues will likely dominate the next presidential election campaign. But neither party will get the public support it needs to win if the two major parties poorly administer health and welfare policies.