Three principles for the transition
The author is a professor emeritus of Sungkyunkwan University and former head of the Korea Association for Public Administration.
The presidential transition committee has started full operations and is drawing a sketch of the Yoon Suk-yeol administration, which will launch on May 10. Yoon, who served as prosecutor general, emphasized through the campaign that he was a “presidential candidate nurtured by the people” and he “would only look at the people.” The transition team will need the following three rules to find the right path.
Rule #1 is to “Move the people.” A president’s administration is not evaluated like a business based on outcomes but is also politically evaluated. The transition team needs to focus on future-oriented reforms to impress the public while reviewing the validity and realistic possibility of fulfilling campaign promises. Let’s look at three examples of political, legal and administrative reforms.
First, people are impressed by broad determination in their leader. In Korean society, privileges for lawyers who were prosecutors and judges are openly granted, but the defense of the people dominating the core of the political power is impregnable. Can the new president speak of “fairness and common sense” while neglecting the grim reality where “people with money are innocent and people without money are guilty?” A president coming from a legal background should make a bold decision to chip away at the impregnable fortress of our legal circles.
Second, people are impressed by tolerance and concessions from a winner. Public broadcasters that defended the Moon Jae-in administration’s mistakes partly hastened the fall of the administration. Past administrations, too, dominated public broadcasters, but the Moon administration crossed the line. This vicious cycle should be broken. The transition team needs to define the principle and direction of the management structure to turn the “administration’s broadcasters” to “the people’s broadcasters.”
Third, people are impressed by honest and transparent execution of public authority. It is no exaggeration that the public recruitment of public agency heads based on the Act on Operation of Public Agencies has been a nominal process with candidates internally chosen by the Blue House. It became a rite of passage to provide justification to the chosen candidates by making other candidates sidekicks in the appointment process. Will the new president continue to deceive people with such a nominal process? He needs to either restore the purpose of public recruitment or change to an appointment system that makes the appointee assume responsibility.
Rule #2 is to “Control yourself and look farther.” According to neuropsychologist Ian Robertson’s “Winner Effect,” a winner’s brain secretes dopamine, a neurological receptor of “self-conviction,” and the winner gets “tunnel vision” to only look ahead and dash. A winner can only see and hear what he wants to, and can easily ride populist promises or stances for instant gratification. President Moon’s policy direction was an archetype of this phenomenon. Yoon’s transition team should be wary of the shortsightedness of being obsessed over visible outcomes within the term. The president-elect should be conscious of history’s evaluation in the future and look at today’s imperatives with a grain of salt.
Rule #3 is to “Value invisible functions.” Visible ministerial mergers can project an illusion that a president has accomplished something big. But policy outcome depends on the software of leadership and operation rather than the hardware of the organizational structure. That’s the lesson we learned from countless government reorganizations in transitional periods. Unless it is inevitable, it is better to focus on functional reform rather than structural reform to address coordination and cooperation among ministries, evaluation and outcome management, quality and utility of service, redistribution of human resources sand system reform.
Strategic priorities need to be defined for selected tasks by considering the gravity of problems, required resources, people’s interests and political factors. If the transition committee wants to faithfully reflect people’s desire for administrative change, it needs to listen to expert opinions and hear the people’s voices with an open mind and a humble attitude.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.