Turning crisis into opportunity

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Turning crisis into opportunity

It is rather fortunate for the Korean economy that the abuse of power scandal involving President Park Geun-hye has spilled over at this exact moment. It’s true that a political stalemate and uncertainties about who is actually in charge will aggravate the difficult circumstances facing our fragile economy. The global economy is showing unstable signs with interest rates on the rise and international trade slowing — as the world’s largest economy starts getting used to a new and untested president, Donald J. Trump, who pledges to restore U.S. supremacy through protectionism.

But imagine how much worse it would be if the corrupt inner circle of the president was left to run the country for another 15 months. The fleet of Korea Inc., which has already lost hundreds of vessels under a totally unreliable captain over the last four years, could have been completely consigned to the bottom of the sea by the time the commander stepped off the ship.

We should therefore find a little comfort in the fact that it was better to learn how badly we were being governed sooner rather than later.

We have at least found out why so many puzzling things were happening right before our eyes. The mystery has been solved, and one major unhealthy influence has been removed, or will be fairly soon. We can better face our crisis because we have been utterly disillusioned.

Looking back, it was a miracle the economy managed to grow by more than 2 percent a year under the Park administration. Even as a greedy elite wreaked havoc on state management to fatten their own egos and pockets, the Korean people did their best in their roles in society. The mature crowds that filled Gwanghwamun Square in downtown Seoul over the weekend was the real strength behind the Korean economy. At its current pace, our fatigued economy could start to shrivel, and its growth pace could further slow to under 2 percent next year.

The truly preposterous scandal has provided momentum for a genuine makeover in economic management. First of all, the process of appointments must be normalized. Under this administration, there was one strange appointment after another filling the positions in public offices, financial institutions, and even private companies and organizations.

Someone without any relevance or credentials landed in executive seats and pushed out existing players doing perfectly good jobs. Many positions were kept vacant for months even when there were eligible candidates. It was as if they had wanted their piece of pie to rot instead of sharing it with others.

Those who helped Park win the presidency went separate ways. Those who spoke honestly were pushed off, leaving the ones who knew how to kowtow. Some of them used the president’s name to build their inner circles and keep up their influence. Appointments in both public and private companies stirred up the rumor mill about who was behind them. It turns out one notorious friend of the president had a hand in all those strange placements.

Favors and prerogatives usually come with newfound power. But the president and her aides have gone too far. The bad appointments wrecked the engine of our public governance. Attempts at reform brought about resistance and a backlash because of the questionable people demanding them. It would have been impossible to expect support and pain-sharing from restructuring and reforms.

We plead to those in position of lofty influence thanks to the president and her cabal: Come down. You have benefited enough in a position that, at best, is guaranteed for another year. We ask a new nonpartisan prime minister and deputy prime minister for the economy to first punish and oust those who ruined the economy for their own self interests. It won’t be difficult because the names of people who were totally unsuited for their jobs are well known. The economy would regain some life if unfit people are replaced with the fit.

We also plead to the chaebol: It could not have been easy to turn down the demands of the president and people in power. But they must promise an end to the feudal tribute system that has fed a chronically collusive relationship between politics and business. If they do, companies will be able to do what they are supposed to do — invest and hire.

Last but not the least, we beg of the president to make a decision that actually helps this country. Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said the scandal could trigger reforms from chaebol to politics and end up helping the market. The president must pave the way.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 17, Page 32
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