Some problems are fundamental

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Some problems are fundamental

The government decided to hold more meetings to discuss state affairs and coordinate policies to be more in tune with public opinion amid mounting criticism of its dysfunctional policy-making. Deputy prime ministers in charge of the economy and social affairs and the Minister of Government Policy Coordination will regularly hold meetings with senior presidential secretaries for policy coordination, public relations and economic affairs. The presidential staff will hold separate regular meetings to examine state affairs under the direction of the senior secretary of policy coordination. The minister of government policy coordination already regularly meets with vice ministers to check the status of policies. This is supposed to create trilateral coordination among the government and Blue House and within the Blue House and Cabinet. The Blue House also recently created a senior presidential post for policy coordination. The government has reorganized and strengthened its communication channel as the first step to address deepening problems in governance.

Although the step is necessary, it falls short of resolving fundamental problems. Lack of dialogue appears to be the real problem. The government in December announced an economic outline for 2015. But a reform plan for pensions for soldiers and teachers was scrapped the following day. The volte-face on reform of the national health insurance scheme is another example. It was approved after a long study and coordination between the private sector and government. It raises questions of what role the meetings presided over by deputy prime ministers on the economy and social affairs played in carrying out already approved policies.

None of the policy-making meetings were attended by the president. As seen from the reversal on pension reforms, no policies can be carried out without cooperation from the ruling party. The changes to the tax code were also scaled down after the ruling party made demands in the face of public complaints. The government voluntarily backtracked on health insurance reform and the party criticized it for being soft. But the party might have had a different view if the government had pushed ahead with the reform and the public protested.

All governments in the past had policy coordination channels. Under the presidential administration of Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo, key cabinet members, presidential staff, and ruling party leaders met almost every day. People’s livelihoods hinge on good policies. The coordination councils must be made to work.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 2, Page 34

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