Trap of a five-year single term
Former members in the Lee Myung-bak administration have grown anxious in recent days with the investigation into his resources diplomacy initiative about to begin. A few newspapers have even published in-depth reports on the issues surrounding the program, which has been criticized for wasting tax payers’ money and harming the environment.
According to these reports, the resources diplomacy initiative was demonstrative of the worst kind of incompetency in history of the Republic of Korea, in which the government made investments without conducting any real research.
However, even if this criticism is deserved, we need to know the characteristics of the controversial program. First of all, the possibility for success is lower than any other project. But after failures of a dozen, a single success could make up for all the loss. Also, it takes time to see real results. Economics and feasibility need to be carefully examined, and it takes time to explore and develop resources.
The mistake of the Lee Myung-bak administration was that it attempted to rush the projects, which required a long-term vision, within his term.
The four-rivers restoration project has been severely criticized by the main opposition party and civil society. While many people agree with the need for river improvement and maintenance, they were appalled by the idea of turning Korea’s four major rivers upside down with bulldozers over three years. In the second year of the Lee administration, officials began to believe that their projects should be completed within the term, as the next administration could not possibly continue Lee’s legacy. The same goes for green growth. It was dashed like a 100-meter sprint and rushed with legislation.
Former Blue House Senior Secretary for Green Growth Kim Sang-hyup recalled the situation:
“Good policies mostly start to come out toward the end of the term, but they are often scrapped in the next administration. For the green growth initiative, related laws were passed and an international organization was established, but it drastically withered in the Park Geun-hye administration. While a two-term presidency has its problems, a single-term limitation also has a clear flaw in that mid- and long-term policies do not properly progress.
“In this situation, we have a series of amateur administrations. When we built the framework for green growth, we had to always consider what would happen when the administration changed. In order to prevent the worst-case scenario - all the agendas from the Lee administration scrapped in the next - we focused on legislation and the establishment of an international organization. A single five-year presidential term decided the fate of Korea’s green growth.”
But green growth’s destiny is actually not so bad. The Presidential Committee on Green Growth is now under the Prime Minister’s Office, but it reopened as a smaller venture in the Park Geun-hye administration. Unlike resources diplomacy and the four-rivers project, it didn’t go to the guillotine that is the public and the National Assembly. However, it has lost momentum and cannot be considered a key national strategy anymore.
In government agencies, divisions with “green” in its titles are generally shut down one after another, and in the current administration, the status of green growth is merely one of the tines of Park’s creative economy.
In fact, Lee Myung-bak’s projects weren’t the only ones to be scrapped. The Roh Moo-hyun administration investigated the Sunshine Policy by the Kim Dae-jung administration, and the Lee Myung-bak government tackled the regional balance initiative of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Since the five-year single-term presidency was implemented in 1987, Korea has been trapped to limit our long-term projects. What will be the fate of the creative economy? It wouldn’t be so different from the resources diplomacy, the four-rivers restoration project and green growth. The current administration would work on establishing a backup plan this year. But the next administration will practically ban the phrase “creative economy,” even if the ruling party remains in power.
I have no intention of defending resources diplomacy or the four-rivers project. If they need to be investigated and criticized, we must clarify those faults.
I am more concerned about the eraser that wipes clean the national agenda every five years. Future strategy cannot survive in this political structure. Even if we accept President Park Geun-hye’s argument that the “discussion of a constitutional revision would cause serious social unrest,” we are still left with a grand task. How can sustainable national strategies be secured?
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 22, Page 30
The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Kyu-youn