Deregulation inertia

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Deregulation inertia

President Park Geun-hye has indefinitely postponed a second cabinet meeting planned for Wednesday on the topic of deregulation and reform. She explained her reasons during a senior secretariat meeting. She was quoted as asking what use a meeting would be when none of the plans and issues discussed during the first conference had been acted on or resolved. In March, she led a seven-hour debate with senior government officials on an array of regulations and areas that need to be liberalized and reformed, but no meaningful action has been taken over the past five months.

Hopes for sweeping and accelerated structural reform have already been dashed. According to the progress report from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Blue House, the government has received 5,262 suggestions and requests for deregulations since the much-hyped first meeting. Just 940 of them were accepted for review. Then in April, a ferry listed and sank in the southwestern sea, killing more than 300 people. All administrative and policy priorities were shifted in favor of public safety. Plans for deregulation and reform were shelved.

Deregulation campaigns derailed due to a variety of reasons. Local governments weren’t cooperative, interest groups were opposed and legislative knee-jerkers disagreed with anything the government proposed.

But that is no excuse. Such responses were foreseen. What is incomprehensible is that government offices gave up so easily. According to a media report, of 135 measures the government announced to stimulate the service sector earlier this month, 112, or 83 percent, could be acted on without revising the law or without legislative approval. These could have been put into effect immediately through administrative acts or ordinances led by related ministers.

With such passive bureaucracy, we cannot expect deregulation and reform to succeed, either, regardless of the president’s intent and will. It is no wonder she called upon government officials to show action, not words, in the meetings.

Administrative regulations total 15,326 so far, up 275 from the end of last year and 44 from the beginning of this year. Last week, the government passed a basic administrative law to require that government offices eliminate a regulation before creating a new one in order to contain the ever-increasing number of regulations. The government more or less admitted that it excels at making new regulations. At doing away with them? Not so much.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 34

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