How to plan and coordinate
Korea’s unique economic policymaking system of bestowing deputy prime ministerial rank to the finance minister with mighty power over decisions in budget-making and public finance, as well as economic policies, draws envy from foreign policy makers.
The deputy prime minister for the economy position was first institutionalized in 1963 and revised under different administrations since the 1994 government reorganization. The title did not exist in some periods and was without budgetary authority in others. President Park Geun-hye gave the office full authority in economic affairs, from planning to coordination.
Under the incumbent government, three people have held the position. All have fallen short of demonstrating the kind of leadership needed with such mighty power. The ongoing shipping and shipbuilding restructuring should have been planned and coordinated well ahead. It was only last week that the deputy prime minister stepped up to take command.
I would like to emphasize that leadership over planning and coordinating economic policies needs to be further cemented under the deputy prime minister. It is not just limited to the shipping and shipbuilding sectors, where there are companies hardly earning enough to service the interest on their debt. The government needs to push forward its pledged reforms in labor, finance, the public sector and education, and in services like the medical, health care and tourism industries. It must come up with a comprehensive action plan to improve living conditions by dealing with pollution problems, and it must retool the legal and infrastructure system in accordance with the evolution of the fourth industrial revolution.
All this work requires coordination and cooperation among different government offices. It is urgent that leadership in policy planning and coordination is reinforced.
The government structure must allow such power concentration in the economic commander with endorsement from the president and support from the presidential office. All macroeconomic policies as well as business and industrial actions must be decided singularly through the Cabinet.
The so-called West Wing conference room meetings at the Blue House — where presidential aides, government officials and concerned parties secretly met for policy discussions during the emergency in 1997 and the ensuing financial crisis — must be replaced through formal economy-related Cabinet meetings. Such a new tradition could enhance transparency in policymaking and minimize political influence over economic decisions.
The presidential secretariat, including the senior presidential secretary for economic affairs, should not interfere and should play a supporting role to the deputy prime minister on behalf of the president. All the rewards and responsibilities should be laid onto the deputy prime minister and relevant Cabinet minister.
The deputy prime minister should be able to regularly communicate with the president either face to face or through the senior secretary.
The authority to name aides and officials should be returned to the deputy prime minister or the minister in charge of the office.
The deputy prime minister should be able to call Cabinet meetings whenever the need arises. Moreover, meetings among ministers, senior secretaries and public institution chiefs on both formal and informal terms should become regular for closer communication and for the smoothing-out of differences. Through their reinforced authority in appointments and policies, ministers must demand more responsible and engaging work from bureaucrats.
Needless to say, the economic team should meet regularly with the press at home and abroad to pitch public policies. Before that, the administration must be in agreement with the policies. The government must heed criticism from foreign press, in that it is too difficult to reach Korean policy makers. During these times of uncertainties and insecurity, policy makers must increase efforts in communications.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 15, Page 28
*The author, a former finance minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.