Beyond the first 48 hours

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Beyond the first 48 hours

The first 48 hours of Moon Jae-in’s presidency has given us time to reflect on our democracy’s 30-year history and accomplishments. Since military rule ended in 1987, the people have struggled hard to resolve the legacy of the country’s imperialist past and establish a government that breathes and communicates with the people. With his simple and humble inauguration ceremony and press conference to announce his nominees for prime minister and chief of staff, Moon was communicating with the people on the same level.

While Moon’s predecessor just issued unilateral orders from the top of an authoritarian pyramid built with sand blocks, Moon has promoted communication with the people and politics without authority, just like water flowing from the mountains to the valley.

Like many people who hope for this new administration’s success, I, too, earnestly hope for Moon’s success and Korea’s success in this time of great transitions.

But Moon’s transparency and leadership style alone are not enough to turn the country into a smart IT economy, achieve peace on the peninsula and resolve widening social and economic gaps. Moon’s honest and soft leadership must expand in two ways.

First, it must be the starting point of the Blue House overcoming its imperial presidential system and becoming an accessible leadership. The root of the imperial presidency, based on our many experiences, was a Blue House that was large and reigning. The weapon of choice for presidential aides to control the cabinet, ruling party and public servants was the president’s trust and their access to the president and related information.

I and the Reset Korea’s political division of the JoongAng Ilbo propose scrapping the civil and economic affairs secretary positions as the fastest way to creating a small Blue House that will not repeat the evils of the past. If the posts cannot be eliminated right now, it is appropriate to rule out close confidantes from the presidential secretariat.

Instead of hiring chummy associates whom the ministers will try to please, young and honest messengers should be appointed as secretaries to realize a small Blue House.

Moon’s leadership can then spread to the cabinet and government bureaucracy. So far, three senior secretaries have been named, and they are clearly younger than the aides of the Park Geun-hye administration.

Second, delegating the president’s authorities to the ministers and assigning responsibilities to them is key to running the government. If a small Blue House that communicates with the public is the first element to successful governance, the second element is the cabinet that implements the president’s policies.

During his campaign, Moon promised to move the presidential office from the Blue House to the central government complex in Gwanghwamun. It appeared to be a sign to stress that the government’s core is not the axis between the president and Blue House secretariat but the axis between the president and ministers.

Until now, past presidents have promised to delegate powers to the ministers, but the promises were never kept. The powerless ministers were often too busy pleasing the presidential secretaries, and the bureaucrats became servants of the Blue House.

President Moon must appoint his trusted associates as ministers, not presidential secretaries, and give them powers to create jobs, reform conglomerates and improve education and child care programs. When their responsibilities and powers are balanced, the ministers will be able to actually lead the ministries and work. Only then will the government properly function.

In fact, the proposals I made so far are nothing new. The presidents of the past mostly failed not because they were not aware of the proposals but because they had no will and open-minded attitude to implement them. Researchers of U.S. presidents have said a president’s leadership starts from inner balance and emotional stability as an individual.

For Moon to succeed, it will be useful for him to give himself time after a long day to reflect on his own. If Moon thinks every night about the keys to leadership, he will be remembered as a successful president.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 35

*The author, a political science professor at Chung-Ang University, is a columnist for the JoongAng Ilbo.

Jaung Hoon
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