Ministers in a vegetative state

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Ministers in a vegetative state


People are interested in the movements of ministers who oversee government offices. So each ministry releases minister’s schedules to the media and posts them online. This week, the main schedule for Kang Ho-in, the minister of land, infrastructure and transport, is “none.” Last week was the same. Aside from a field visit for holiday traffic control in Seoul on May 1, his schedule has been empty. When I asked the ministry why, I was told that no special work schedule has been made.

Other ministries are in similar situations. Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Kim Jae-soo used to have about 15 events a week, three to four every day, but since the election he has two to three a week. For this week, he has nothing aside from cabinet meetings, a field visit to check prices on May 16 and a conference on May 19.

Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Ki-gwon has only two events scheduled, a meeting with the Swedish ambassador on May 2 and attending the Master Technician of the Month award ceremony on May 19. An educational ministry official said, “Ministers seem to refrain from external activities in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding in the early days of administration change.”

On May 8, right before the presidential election, some 40 ministers and vice ministers of the Park Geun-hye administration submitted resignations, and they have all stopped working. They drastically reduced internal and external activities such as attending meetings, making field visits and meeting with related agencies and individuals.

They are mostly on standby near the Government Complex for emergency situations like special cabinet meeting. According to one official, “Since the minister’s term is about to end, the management is not as strict, and the atmosphere is unsettling.”

The current state is expected to continue for a while. The cabinet confirmation hearing for the new administration will be held from May 25 to early June, and the ministers will remain in a “vegetative state” for at least a month. If opposition parties don’t cooperate, it may take months to form the cabinet. Vice ministers’ fates are even less clear.

In 2008, when the Lee Myung-bak Administration began, the vice minister for trade, industry and energy left the office and took the position of vice minister for knowledge economy one hour later. He learned about his new post on the day of his appointment.

When an administration changes, ministers and vice ministers of the previous administration could leave. But even if they end up leaving, they must do their job until the last moment. Major changes are expected as power has changed hands after nine years. As government officials, they need to fulfill their duties and prevent a gap in operations.

President Moon Jae-in said that he would minimize government organizational reshuffle. He should rush reorganization to prevent discipline in public offices from becoming slack. It is about time we change the practice of merging and closing ministries whenever administration changes and officials are notified to step down suddenly. What we want to see is not ministers in a vegetative state but ones who do their best till the end.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 29

*The author is a business news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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