Presidential committees facing scrutiny

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Presidential committees facing scrutiny


President Moon Jae-in, fourth from right, makes a speech at the eighth meeting of the Presidential Committee on Job Creation at an SK Hynix factory in Chungju, North Chungcheong. At the meeting, President Moon emphasized that “Good jobs are ultimately created by companies.” [YONHAP]

Last July, the Special Committee for Financial Reform, a group under the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning, clashed with the Ministry of Economy and Finance over the government’s tax policy. While the committee called for an increase in the general real estate tax and the number of people taxed for financial income, the Finance Ministry rejected the recommendations, explaining that it would be difficult to pursue both measures.

Presidential committees, which serve as think tanks for the presidential office, have recently come under fire for frustrating the policy-making process.

Multiple parties, including the financial reform committee, took part in drafting the general real estate tax. While the plan was first written by the committee, it was changed by the Finance Ministry and then submitted to the National Assembly. The ruling party, the government and the presidential office made additional changes.

Presidential committees are facing criticism for lack of results. The Presidential Committee on Job Creation has failed to come up with a concrete policy for employment despite meeting eight times since being formed in May last year.

Job growth in the country has slowed dramatically, with monthly employment increases dropping to about 5,000 a month in July, compared to the same month last year when new jobs increased an average of more than 300,000. Meanwhile, as the job situation worsens, committees with the “job creation” title have proliferated.

The Special Committee for Income-led Growth, which was formed last month under the Presidential Commission on Policy Planning, could be in limbo as Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon and presidential policy chief Jang Ha-sung remain at odds over the direction and speed of the income-led economic growth model being pushed by president Moon Jae-in. Such issues have left presidential committees devoid of influence or power, leading to questions about their effectiveness.

According to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety, the administration has 521 advisory committees. The number was at 357 in 1998 and peaked at 535 in 2008. Committees directly under the president total 17 and include the Presidential Committee on Job Creation and the Presidential Committee on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Presidential committees increased from 10 in 1997 to 30 in 2008, the total ranging from 15 to 21 since 2012.

Some presidential committees are limited to five-year terms, and a number of the committees have had to close after a change in administration. The Presidential Committee for National Cohesion formed under former president Park Geun-hye was dissolved after the administration change.

“There is the impression that past committees such as ‘Green Growth’ and ‘Creative Economy’ have switched names,” said an official of a presidential committee. “I admit that this phenomenon repeats itself whenever there is an administrative change.”

Despite immediate concerns regarding the job market and real estate taxes, presidential committees are focused on long-term policies. “There is relatively less interest on domestic issues as this administration is prioritizing inter-Korean issues,” the official added. “All committee plans have to somehow include inter-Korean issues.”

The committees themselves are only able to make policy recommendations and have no enforcement authority. They are limited to providing advice requested by government agencies and helping with the decision-making process.

Chang Byung-gyu, head of the Presidential Committee on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, recognizes the limitations of his organization: “It’s not a structure where you can do a lot.”

The sentiment is echoed by other presidential committees. “The government picks civilian or academic experts who promote their policies and raise policy awareness,” said an official at another committee, who requested anonymity.

Administrators are hampered by the work of some committees. It can be difficult for the government to pursue policies when they are constantly being pressured by presidential committees. But at the same time, it is difficult to ignore them outright. It is also difficult for government ministers who serve as government members of the presidential committees to fully carry out their duties. Often times, ministers send other officials to attend committee meetings.

While the majority of committees have no budget, presidential committees are well financed. This year, each presidential committee has a budget of around 3.5 billion won ($3.1 million). According to the National Assembly’s Special Committee on Budget and Accounts, presidential committee heads receive annual compensation of around 100 million won, similar to the 120 million won salary for deputy ministers. An additional 1.5 billion won has been allocated for presidential committees to establish a project management system.

“If committees are only formed to create positions for presidential committees, they won’t be of any real help to the president and can be criticized for being organizations in name only without any influence,” said Kang Sung-jin, an economics professor at Korea University.

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