[Viewpoint] Lawmakers in cabinet is only natural

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[Viewpoint] Lawmakers in cabinet is only natural

“I cannot understand why lawmakers want to become ministers,” President Lee Myung-bak said before the cabinet reshuffle in January 2009. Lee, in fact, did not hire not a single lawmaker as a cabinet member when he became president in 2008.

Recently, a ban to prevent lawmakers from simultaneously holding ministerial posts has generated an increasing amount of discussion, and it appears that many people actually agree with President Lee.

In fact, it is incredibly irritating to look at lawmakers’ desperate attempts to join the cabinet whenever a reshuffle takes place. In the past, presidents often used ministerial posts to influence lawmakers of the ruling party. The ministerial posts were also used as bargaining chips to create a coalition government.

The Kim Dae-jung administration gave the prime minister post to Kim Jong-phil and several other ministerial posts to his associates because they were used in the spoils system.

Furthermore, there are significant numbers of lawmakers who are also realizing personal gains by holding positions at for-profit organizations. Lee Sang-deuk, a former lawmaker of the Saenuri Party, received hundreds of millions of won from a conglomerate under the title of “adviser.”

There is no free money. You have to use your power in return. That is why discussion flared about banning lawmakers from holding other jobs, including ministerial posts.

And yet, a cabinet position is different from a job that is primarily oriented toward personal gain. Those supporting the ban pointed out that a lawmaker is barred from serving as a lawmaker in a presidential system. They said it goes against the division of power among the administration, legislature and judiciary.

In fact, the United States Constitution bars a senator or representative, during the time for which he or she was elected, from being appointed to any other civil office.

But the Korean Constitution is a hybrid between presidential and parliamentary systems. It was created in that way to limit the authority of the president. And yet, a president is still considered to have power enough to rival that of an emperor in Korea.

In a parliamentary system, restrictions also exist. In most cases, a minister’s role as a lawmaker is suspended when he or she joins the cabinet. The rule is intended to allow the lawmaker to concentrate on the ministerial job and to maintain the separation of the administration and legislature. Such a restriction is desirable, although a ban is not. And yet, it also seems questionable that a lawmaker must give up his National Assembly seat to serve in the cabinet and a by-election take place.

A political party’s support can be crucial to implementing policy, and the president and ruling party are responsible for following through on their promises. To implement policies in the short-term, five years or less, a strong driving force is a must, and politicians who share a president’s vision can be much more effective than bureaucrats.

It is also more appropriate in terms of democratic principles that elected power controls appointed power. In modern democracy, the people elect their representatives to delegate the power, and in doing so, the people do not think only about professional expertise in the field. They also consider candidates’ political views, ethics and reliability, among other things.

If a president was intended to be elected based solely on professional skill, he should be elected by a competitive exam. A politician is a representative elected by the people, even though he or she may lack the experience or expertise of career public servants.

Just like the argument of Max Weber, bureaucracy is impersonal and anyone who brings spirit to it is a politician. The voters elect the politician. It is more appropriate to adhere to the principle that a politician control the bureaucratic system and is beholden to the public.

The rule of President Kim Dae-jung was significant in the development of democracy because the administration was handed over from one side to the other. The opposition party, whose role was to criticize the government, changed. Because it experienced what it was like to run the country, it became more prudent in its approach to state affairs. Running the government can be a real education, even to veteran politicians.

It is important to nurture elected politicians who may lack expertise in government, rather than marginalize them just because they may be irritating. At the end of the day, they are the ones who decide on major policies and create laws.

Electing the right ones is important, but it is equally important to educate them after they take office. Since there is no lawmaker college to teach them what they need to know, a system should be created to help them grow and learn the responsibilities of the job.

In the parliamentary systems of Japan and England, ministers are by definition lawmakers. Vice ministers and political affairs ministers under them are also lawmakers, so they can gain administrative experience, while administrative vice ministers are appointed from the ranks of career public servants.

The system allows lawmakers to acquire administrative expertise while at the same time exercising their political power. Throughout the process, politicians who prove their ability become ministers and the strongest leader becomes prime minister.

“Lawmakers should grow their expertise in the National Assembly. Why do they want to do it by joining the administration?” In asking the question, President Lee betrayed a pessimism toward politicians and a lack of understanding about the constitutional system.

A politician’s experience as a minister is not an opportunity to improve the resume. It is an asset for the country. To reduce the trial-and-error in state affairs, and for the desirable politics, it is mandatory.
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