Listen to the people

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Listen to the people

Out of 110,444 suggestions proposed by Korean citizens to nationwide public agencies last year, 3,023 cases were actually reflected in the administration’s operations. When citizens make 100 comments, the government listens to only two or three. Educational agencies are especially supposed to listen to the opinions of parents and students, but their words fell on deaf ears: 11 of the 17 education boards did not adopt any proposal by parents or children.

In a democratic state, the government’s ears should be open to citizens at all times, but that’s not the reality in Korea. In the early days of modernization, military and bureaucratic elites led economic and social growth. As the market expanded and civilian politics was established, businessmen, politicians and professionals joined the leading group. Meanwhile, they considered citizens as objects of enlightenment. Now, in the age of collective intelligence and government 3.0, the state is still ignoring its people.

In the course of determining the nation’s future, the government has not taken citizens into account. Every administration has set up a national vision. The Roh Tae-woo and Kim Young-sam administrations’ vision was “2020 Korea,” and the Kim Dae-jung administration’s slogan was “Millennium Project.” The Roh Moo-hyun government pursued “Vision 2030,” and the Lee Myung-bak administration promoted “National Vision for Green Growth” as well as mid-term and long-term policy objectives. ]

But no administration has seriously asked for the opinions of citizens when deciding upon the direction. The Blue House and government ministries ordered state-funded research institutes to draw fancy-looking pictures. In the process, a nominal panel discussion with scholars and interest groups was held in order to avoid criticism that the government was unilaterally promoting the vision.

Recently, the Science and Technology Policy Institute invited the director of the Finland Futures Research Center at the University of Turku. He shared the process of Finland setting its national future plan, Vision 2030. The Finnish government works with private and state-funded research institutes to establish the national vision. It sounds similar to what Korea does. However, this is the first version.

The plan is posted online and citizens’ opinions are accepted. More than 10 discussion sessions are held around the country, and it takes about a year to gather their opinions. And that’s not all. The Finnish parliament, which represents the citizens, thoroughly verifies the plan. What’s the actual benefit of going through the complicated process? The direction had a simple answer: a national vision cannot be implemented without the consent of the citizens.

Finally, a movement to supplement the “national visions without the participation of the citizens” has begun. The Presidential Committee for National Cohesion, chaired by Han Kwang-ok, has started a project to formulate a vision for Korean society with citizen participation and backing from the government and experts. The project is called “The Grand National Discussion: the Republic of Korea Asks the Citizens Which Way to Go.”

The project is composed of three steps: surveying the public for its opinions and setting the agenda, regional discussion sessions and the publication of a white paper. The survey, made up of an online questionnaire that asked for the opinions of 2,022 citizens, an in-person survey of 1,206 citizens and a survey of 101 specialists, has been completed. Opinions and preferences on six future visions from the survey (as seen in the table) are being analyzed for selection of four to five core items. Four regional discussions with 1,000 participants and one conclusive discussion will be held. There has never been such an extensive and in-depth project to understand what citizens think about the future of the country.

As the social schism becomes more extreme and politics are increasingly absent, the economy is also struggling. Some may think a discussion is a luxury at this moment. However, government-led initiatives cannot pull Korea out of its quagmire. Unless citizens participate in public discussion, we cannot solve the challenges of welfare, environment, education, labor, energy and population issues. The European-style process of asking citizens about the direction of the national administration is an unfamiliar experiment. However, it is something Korean society must do as we face the limits of growth today.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 26, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyu-youn

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