The president as enforcer

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The president as enforcer

President Lee Myung-bak delivered strong criticism of the widespread corruption among government officials last Friday at a meeting with his ministers and senior secretaries. He vented his rage about the irregularities in the government, saying, “The entire nation seems to be mired in corruption.”

After expressing his anger at the ongoing turf war between the prosecution and the police over the authority to investigate, Lee moved on to lambaste the ruling Grand National Party’s fuzzy approach to the issue of cutting college tuition. He also leveled criticism at universities’ complacent administration, the arrogance in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, and the attitudes of public corporation CEOs who came from the government.

There is nothing wrong with the president demonstrating his concerns about the deepening ruptures and inefficiency in the administration and the deteriorating work ethic among government workers, especially because he only has one and a half years left in office.

But we are wondering how many of his remarks will strike a chord with citizens and government officials because he is directly or indirectly responsible for many of the issues he has raised, as seen by his subordinates’ involvement in the influence-peddling scandal related to the bankrupt Busan Savings Bank Group.

The administration has failed to inspire government employees. Lee advocates for a fair society and stresses the importance of efficient management in state-run corporations. But a massive number of people who worked for him when he ran for president have since landed key management or auditor posts at hundreds of public companies, and many of them have turned out to be involved in wrongdoing while in office. We are doubtful whether Lee really tried to cut the chain of cronyism rather than sticking to his signature revolving-door appointments.

The president is also the chief of the prosecution and police, which means that determining their investigative rights also falls under his jurisdiction. He must not treat the brawl between the two law enforcement agencies as if he were a bystander. And on the thorny issue of college tuition reduction, he should have taken the lead in directing the administration when GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-yea first raised the issue.

The president is the enforcer, not a critic. We call on Lee to consider whether he ushered the winds of change into the government and society. It’s his job to make up for all of these failures before his term expires.
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