Hwang’s full plateNewly confirmed Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-an must demonstrate strong leadership to fill the vacuum left by his predecessor Lee Wan-koo’s resignation 52 days ago. The responsibility for taking the wheel in the middle of a full-fledged crisis with the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak raging in Korea falls on him. Above all, he must do his best to reverse public distrust of the government for its lethargic response to the rapid spread of the potentially fatal virus. His field trip to hospitals even before his inaugural ceremony and subsequent attendance at a meeting working on government response to the crisis was a good start for the prime minister in the depth of such a crisis.
Hwang must exert efforts to console the people over their losses since the MERS outbreak began about a month ago. He must not only serve as the captain of the crisis response team but also roll up his sleeves to put our derailed economy back on track. In doing so, he must also pay heed to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) evaluation of our MERS crisis. The WHO said our current situation does not constitute an emergency for global public health and that there is no need for restrictions on entries and exits of people, as clearly stated by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. She also said the likelihood of massive proliferation within local communities in Korea is low. That means it is time for the new prime minister to encourage citizens to swiftly go back to normal.
The new prime minister must also step up efforts to reinvent a government under attack for its inept response to the outbreak in the initial stages. Once the crisis settles down, Hwang must revamp the public health sector by placing people with expertise and devotion in key posts. He must take this crisis as an opportunity to completely change the public health administration and base it on capability and professionalism. Citizens will closely monitor whether he plays his due part in that process.
The new prime minister also must facilitate communication between the ruling and opposition parties as head of the cabinet, given the critical dearth of communication skills displayed by the incumbent government. In particular, he must proactively collect officialdom’s various voices and deliver them to the president as they are and without sugar-coating.
At the same time, he must somehow lift the fallen morale of civil servants, which has suffered through the MERS outbreak. Without that, he can hardly be a driving force for major reforms. But first, he must carry out his duty as head of the central command responsible for stopping MERS from spreading further.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 19, Page 30