An overly omnipotent presidentPresident Park Geun-hye had her first meeting with some of her senior secretaries at the Blue House on Wednesday - without any cabinet ministers. The meeting is being viewed as a desperate attempt to get the new administration off the ground amid mounting North Korean nuclear threats and a worsening economic slowdown. Park spent most of the time reiterating her campaign pledge that she won’t raise taxes to fund her proposed welfare programs and directing her senior secretaries to concentrate on stabilizing prices - both things directly related to the livelihoods of the people. We welcome her decision to start her first secretariat meeting by focusing on the lives of the general public.
However, we seriously question the way she talks about her major policies and directs her senior aides. Park ordered them to “find effective ways to fund her welfare promises without collecting more taxes from the people” by “reducing budget waste and taxing the black market.” These are also reaffirmations of her campaign vows.
But the way a presidential candidate speaks should be different from the way the president speaks. Admittedly, there are lots of conflicting views and controversies over how to finance her welfare commitments. In fact, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance has not yet come up with feasible answers to the dilemma - despite the transition committee’s persistent demands. Most economists agree that adjusting expenditures and taxing the underground economy alone cannot secure the necessary funds.
If President Park repeats what she said as a presidential hopeful, it will only give her and her government less leeway in running the country, even risking a critical loss of public confidence in the government if it fails. And the president’s arbitrary decision to push ahead with her policies without even a full lineup of cabinet ministers would make any revision or supplementation difficult. The responsibility - and criticism - for the mess should be borne by the president herself, which again leads to a critical lack of administrative power during the remainder of her term.
The conventional wisdom says if the president expresses her views on the results of government consultations into a particular issue, that is sufficient. The details of achieving the policy goal should be announced by ministers, not the president. Otherwise, the government’s working procedures will be thrown into disorder. The president’s omnipotent presence in the new government will only backfire.