Communication problemsSpace can influence one’s state of mind. If a leader sits safely inside a huge office all day within arm’s reach of a number of aides, he or she could quickly fall out of touch with everyday affairs. Many heads of state who reside in isolated spaces often grow detached from the public and fail to keep up with what has gone awry on the outside.
The distance between the offices of the president and the aides is telling of their relationship. In the Blue House, aides usually must drive to the presidential office in the main hall from a far away secretarial building. In the United States, Germany, and Israel, state staff can stop by the president’s room for both serious discussions or to simply share a pizza because their rooms are often adjacent.
If our state dialogues were part of such a casual and close system, many unfortunate incidents in Korea’s modern history may never have happened. If former President Lee Myung-bak had mingled with his staff, then he may have been more aware of the misdemeanors his older brother committed. And if President Park Geun-hye shared tea and conversation with her aides, she may have realized that some of her political appointments were wrong.
Korea’s former presidents were all familiar with the shortcomings in the Blue House’s communication system, but nothing was done about it. Presidents Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, as well as lawmaker Moon Jae-in, the opposition candidate in the 2012 presidential election, pledged during their campaigns to move their offices to the government headquarters in Gwanghwamun. But those plans fell through because of security concerns and public inconvenience. Former President Roh Moo-hyun had his room put in the staff building, but it was mostly left empty, and President Park hardly uses it.
Looking ahead, there has to be a fundamental rearrangement. The main office building could be refitted to accommodate secretaries and staff. Or the premises could be entirely reconstructed, doing away with the secretariat and security offices to instead create one presidential office building. The current presidential office could be used as a guest house. During the end of his term, former President Lee briefly looked into this idea. But the budget and his lame-duck status prevented him from pushing ahead. If she has the will, President Park could see it through, as the legislature has no reason to oppose it. And it would ultimately do her good by narrowing the physical distance in communication. It may also allow her to leave a meaningful legacy for her successors and future generations.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 30