It’s all about communication
Communication is a universal value in all democracies. “The constant free flow of communication among us - enabling the free interchange of ideas - forms the very bloodstream of our nation. It keeps the mind and body of our democracy eternally vital, eternally young,” said U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over the past two years, demands were consistently made to President Park Geun-hye and the Blue House that they need to improve their communication.
Smooth communication is crucial not only for the president and the Blue House, but also for the entire administration - including ministers, vice ministers and all public servants. In fact, the entire process of making a policy out of an idea and implementing it for an intended effect involves a process of communication. All policies are produced and implemented through communication between policymakers and experts, horizontal and vertical communication within a ministry, communication with other ministries and communication with the National Assembly, media and the public. To produce the intended effect, all communication must flow smoothly.
When a government policy involves potential conflicts of interests - and when it is a sensitive issue that requires the processes of coming to a political or social consensus - smooth communication inside and outside the government is particularly important. President Park promised that she will revive the economy during the remainder of her term. To succeed in the difficult challenges of labor market reform and deregulation of the capital region, the most important task is improving communication within the government.
The top priority must be placed on smooth communication between the president and ministers. Each minister should be given opportunities to report to Park face-to-face and have one-on-one meetings with her as often as possible. The opportunities will allow the ministers to accurately understand the president’s intentions concerning the state of affairs and help them to push forward in their jobs with confidence. One-on-one meetings with the president will particularly allow a minister to exchange opinions candidly and strengthen mutual trust.
It is also important to allow directors of ministries in charge of an issue to attend the meeting when a minister has to report to the president face-to-face. Giving a chance to the officials to directly report to the president and listen to the president’s comments will no doubt motivate them further and heighten their sense of responsibility.
In addition to communication between the president and ministers, smooth communication between ministers and senior secretaries at the Blue House is important. But communication must only be a tool to allow the ministries to work effectively and smoothly toward the goals that the president has intended. Presidential secretaries must never intervene in the ministries’ affairs.
Communicating with politicians, media and the public is the job of all public servants including ministers. Recently, public servants have complained that they can’t get things done because of the uncooperative attitudes of the National Assembly and politicians. That may be true, but the administration also failed to make proper efforts to overcome that difficulty, which is inherent in the democratic system.
Ministries’ efforts to improve communication with the media, in particular, should be improved in order to create a public consensus on a policy being pursued by the government. The ministries must never forget that their efforts will be the most effective - more effective than any other special organ of the Blue House aimed at communications with the outside or the government - because they understand the policies the best.
In order to improve communication efforts, it is necessary to create a proper environment. First, a minister should be guaranteed the power to make appointments of officials in his or her ministry under the principle that he or she will serve the president throughout the presidential term. Furthermore, a proper reward system needs to be engineered to encourage public servants to improve communication.
Of course, smooth internal communication within a ministry to reach a consensus on a particular policy is a precondition for everything else. To this end, opportunities for face-to-face reporting to vice ministers and ministers as well as discussions must be given as much scope as possible. Senior officials including ministers and vice ministers travel frequently between Seoul and Sejong City and opportunities for face-to-face reporting have decreased due to the heavy travel time. A measure to compensate for the lost opportunities to communicate is urgently needed.
During President Park’s remaining term, she must make efforts to communicate better for the sake of smooth state affairs, and so that she can prove wrong the famous quote by George Bernard Shaw: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff. JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 19, Page 28
*The author is former finance minister and adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Sakong Il