A president by her lonesome

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A president by her lonesome

The Sewol ferry disaster laid bare all the weak points of our society, as seen in the fatal gap between the steering room and the cabins. Despite the government’s knee-jerk vows that such calamities will never be repeated, the gap between officialdom and the public grows even bigger. Though President Park Geun-hye has made many tearful pledges, people still remain dubious.

Park is at the top of a pyramid structure supported by the Blue House staff, government ministers and civil servants. We seriously wonder if the structure is tight and solid enough. Her cabinet meetings look like a stuffy academic conference. People are not comfortable to see her ministers write down her instructions with their mouths shut grimly, reflecting the very long distance between them and their commander in chief.

People want a leader in close communication with others. Without a family of her own, however, Park spends most of her time alone at night at the heavily-guarded Blue House. The president’s isolation continues throughout the day. She goes to the second floor of the huge main building, which at a glance looks like Geunjeongjeon Hall in Gyeongbok Palace. Her office on the second floor is bigger than 1,000 square feet and her desk is 16 yards away from the door. Former President Lee Myung-bak even joked that you could play tennis there.

At the same time, her chief of staff, head of her national security office and other secretaries are working in a building 0.3 mile away. Her chief of staff and senior secretaries have to take a car - and junior secretaries walk for 10 minutes - to meet the president in person. This structure has two serious problems: the president’s isolation and inefficient communication.

Even in an age of smartphones, you can’t run a government online. The president must be able to consult with her staff face- to-face.

Inefficiency is a serious problem given the constant security threats from North Korea: its missiles can hit Seoul in just a few minutes - probably before her chief of staff or head of her security office could get to the president’s room.

It would be better for the offices of the president, prime minister and presidential aides to be placed almost back to back so they can freely discuss national affairs over a cup of coffee. To reinvent the nation, President Park must change her office first.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 22, Page 34

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