A government in disarray
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Many used to know the names of several cabinet members in the past. These days, few can name one — except for the justice minister, who makes headlines every day. It is not that the private sector has become greater. The government has become bigger than ever under President Moon Jae-in. It spends an annual budget of more than 500 trillion won ($452 billion). Despite its outsized role and budget, the administration has less of a presence than its predecessors. That’s because of the Blue House’s omnipresence. Presidential staff members make more public appearances on the news today.
The cabinet is also under the sway of a myriad of committees. These committees design and influence policies of each government office. All the populist polices, including a phasing out of nuclear energy, came from those committees. Now, they have proposed to build a new airport on Gadeok Island, Busan, instead of expanding the Gimhae airport in South Gyeongsang, to woo voters in the southern coast region. Governance has been running in the same pattern since President Moon Jae-in took office. Committees comprised of figures in tune with his ideology draw up policies and the administration dutifully executes them. No wonder all government ministers have lost their voices.
A government must act as an objective judge. It must mediate in disputes to reach harmony and compromise. It can do so only when it has the authority and credence that comes from morality and efficacy. Efficacy should be backed by scientific data, but science and data are just accessories to this liberal government. It has reversed the previous airport project, but won’t execute the required feasibility study. During the mad cow scare, various rumors spooked the public. Science was not employed. Not a single person has died from mad cow disease over the last 12 years. Nothing has changed.
The liberal government claims to be ethically upright. But now it plans to conduct confirmation hearings on the ethics of candidates for high-level offices behind closed-doors. Ethics and moral standards are looked into to make sure that the official uses power for the public good. But lawmakers want to keep the screening to themselves. They have forgotten that a confirmation hearing is a mechanism to keep the presidential appointment power in check.
The idea came after President Moon said it was hard to recruit talented people because of their apprehensions about confirmation hearings. But many of the appointment failures in the incumbent government cannot be blamed on confirmation hearings. The choices proved poor. They were picked from a very narrow pool of talent. Cho Kuk’s case is the best example. If not for confirmation hearings, the former justice minister nominee’s family corruption would have remained unknown. An upcoming cabinet reshuffle could be the last of Moon’s term. Given the epic faceoff between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, it is evident who should be shown the door. But such controversial ministers are said to be staying.
Whoever is seated in the cabinet does not really matter if everyone has the same ideas and ideology as the liberal president. The government is losing dignity. It is becoming an epicenter for risk. It is turning cowardly, hiding behind those committees and review boards or reflexively putting all blame on past governments. When will such nonsensical cycles stop?