New ministry must live up to its size

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New ministry must live up to its size

The highlight of the incoming Park Geun-hye government’s reorganization plan is the creation of a mammoth ministry called the Ministry of Future Planning and Science. It would take on the responsibilities of promoting science and technology as well as telecommunications. The ministry’s budget would amount to a whopping 16.9 trillion won ($15.97 billion).

President-elect Park pledged that she would create a new government organization to lead innovation in science and technology, and the new ministry would be in charge of promoting growth and creating jobs in these fields. In short, the Park Geun-hye government’s success depends on the ministry.

For the last five years, science and technology as well as information and communications were scattered here and there, leading to incongruous and delayed policy making. Under one roof now, the relevant players could create a new habitat to foster basic application science and engineering research that might eventually lead to high-value jobs.

This “control tower” approach to management can maximize collaboration on various technologies and strengthen competitiveness when it comes to innovation.

Under its leadership, the country could grow to lead in innovating new technology just like the United States or Israel.

But there are worries as well. It is questionable whether the multifaceted and multifunctional ministry can run smoothly.

The ministry is a sort of a government supermarket with roles carved out from the National Science and Technology Commission, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the Korea Communications Commission and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism. Different offices with conflicts of interest and varying goals would be squeezed under one roof.

The ministry must juggle policy making with many other roles. Its colossal scale could hamper versatility, efficiency and expediency, and do more harm than good. We all remember how ineffective the all-powerful finance ministry was in dealing with the financial crisis.

Few are naive enough to believe that science and technology standards would suddenly jump after a simple name change or structural reorganization. Governments have wasted so much time and energy on retooling ministries every five years. We truly hope that the new elephantine ministry lives up to its new grandiose name.
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