After the delugeBig business, lawmakers, bureaucrats, military generals, and cabinet ministers are satirized as the “Five Bandits” in the famous poem by dissident poet Kim Chi-ha. The narrative poem was released in 1970 during the heyday of the rule of strongman Park Chung Hee, who bent the Constitution to extend his dictatorship to a third term. His daughter Park Geun-hye, who four years ago became the first female president and is now the first president to be removed by the Constitutional Court, goes down in history as a figure of controversy like her father, and certain disgrace.
A half a century has passed but the Park legacy lives on. The shady, behind-the-scenes wheeling-dealing of military regimes, which led to fast results at times but also institutionalized collusive relationships, are deeply-rooted in Korean governance. People have grown to distrust and resent the government and corporate elites. Many spent the weekends of this winter on the streets crying out for an end to the traditions of connivance. We no longer live in an era of military regimes, yet large companies, politicians, and senior bureaucrats still deserve to be targets for resentment and satire.
The presidential race has kicked off with the Constitutional Court’s endorsement of the impeachment of Park. The top election agenda will be the economy. The economic conditions could not be worse. The economy has been neglected because the entire country was preoccupied with bringing the corrupt to justice.
Companies must stand at the forefront, and the public sector must give its full attention and support. The so-called Five Bandits must become heroes to save the economy. We, meanwhile, must restrain our political cynicism. The Constitutional Court ruling pointed out the president’s offense of infringing on the freedom of corporate activities.
The court concluded that by directly or indirectly helping Choi Soon-sil pursue her own self interests through organizations like Mi-R and K-Sports foundations, the president infringed on corporate rights and the freedom of corporate management.
The court did not go into the illegality behind corporate donations to Park and Choi, but pointed out that interference in corporate activities was itself a reason for Park to be removed. The court could not judge her sins on the day the Sewol ferry sank in 2014 citing lack of evidence pointing to misdeeds.
So how can the operation of saving the economy work? The political sector has lost face from the scandal involving the president. It must regain public trust. Confidence in politics among young people is at rock bottom. It is even below their confidence in a person they meet for the first time, according to a survey of 1,242 college students across the nation. Cynicism and indifference becomes commonplace when the elite in the media or politics become objects of ridicule.
Bureaucrats are mocked as soulless creatures. But they are the crew that can fight for the country against a sea of challenges at home and abroad. Former construction minister Koh Byung-woo, who is in his 80s, titled his memoir “Bureaucrats with Soul.”
“People won’t be impressed with a policy made by a bureaucrat without a soul,” he said, advising government officials to put all their heart and soul into every word of policy.
Bureaucracy today has negative connotations of complacency and overbearingness. But when the term was coined in the 19th century, it referred to administrative professionalism and commitment.
Lastly, the country must breed an environment favorable for business. As the Constitutional Court emphasized, corporate property rights and freedom of corporate management must be protected and ensured. We must differentiate between necessary and unnecessary anti-corporate sentiment. In a survey by a business cable channel of 1,000 people, nine out of 10 students said they had a negative image of companies. That is because they grew up believing chaebol are evil.
The economy is in an ailing state. Disparities between growth and distribution, large and smaller enterprises, and external and domestic demand have widened from protracted dysfunction in leadership, administration, and legislative activity due to preoccupation with the impeachment.
The election season has arrived. We must encourage the legislature and government to normalize the economy. The British were able to initiate an industrial revolution in the 18th century after they endured a series of social and religious revolutions. The fourth industrial revolution cannot be led by enterprises alone. It must have the help of the legislature and government.
While reading the Constitutional Court’s 8-0 ruling against President Park Geun-hye, Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi expressed hope that the national divide will end. It is time to rejuvenate our supine economy towards a better future.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 11, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.