The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Festina lente — the Latin for “Hurry slowly” or “Make haste slowly” — is an oxymoronic adage used by the first Roman emperor Augustus as his motto. The phrase means you should move forward step by step by distinguishing what you can do and can’t.
The public view of the first month of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition is relatively negative. People think the transition team failed to present a big picture for the new administration, although it did try with the controversial relocation of the presidential office to the Ministry of National Defense building in Yongsan.
The transition team appears to be reversing policies of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration. But it is not enough for an incoming administration to take the polar opposite direction of an outgoing administration after an election victory. We saw it when the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration pushed for the massive four-river restoration project shortly after his election victory. We also saw it in the Moon Jae-in administration’s reckless push for income-led growth policies immediately after his election.
Policies to meet expectations of hard-line supporters only cause chaos in the market and cost public trust in the government. Fortunately, Yoon’s transition team decided to delay his proposed deregulation of the real estate market and reorganization of the government until after its launch on March 10.
It is not easy to transform campaign promises into concrete policies. Instead of hurrying to implement them shortly after an election, a new government must determine its priorities by carefully weighing their urgency, the balance of power in the National Assembly, and any change in public perceptions.
It is not simple for the Yoon administration to show its own colors after its launch next month. The incoming administration could blame the outgoing one for the delay in carrying out Yoon’s campaign promises, but it takes legal and systemic procedures to do that.
For instance, if the new government wants to resume the operation of the Shin-Hanul No. 3 and 4 reactors the Moon administration suspended as a result of its nuclear phase-out policy, it must first include the idea in the nation’s Basic Energy Plan and Basic Plan for Electricity Demand and Supply, not to mention going through a rigorous environmental examination. Even if the reactors resume their operation by 2025, commercial operation will be difficult under the reign of the Yoon administration.
That’s not all. If the new administration wants to extend the operation period of old reactors, it must go through a safety assessment by the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) and get approval of nearby residents. Last week, the transition team announced a plan to expedite the process required for the early resumption of suspended reactors. Needless to say, unreasonable procedures should be removed, but procedural justice also should not be sacrificed. The new government needs to take a step-by-step approach instead of hurrying. I hope the new government gives a message of hope to our nuclear habitat which has been nearly dormant after the Moon administration’s policy to wean the country off nuclear energy.
The same applies to Yoon’s promise to draw up a 50-trillion-won ($40.2-billion) supplementary budget to help small merchants who suffered from the pandemic and to the relocation of the presidential office to Yongsan. Implementing all of Yoon’s campaign promises would cost 266 trillion won over the next five years. But inflation and interest rates fluctuate alarmingly. The fiscal burden will grow given his pledges to raise average soldiers’ monthly pay to 2 million won, increase basic pensions for the elderly by 100,000 won a month, and provide a 1-million-won monthly allowance to parents with babies until their first birthday.
The controversy over the relocation of the presidential office goes on. Yoon is reportedly considering using the official residence of the foreign minister as his own residence instead of the official residence of the Army Chief of Staff until his official residence is fully built inside the defense ministry compound. Whatever the case, Yoon should report to work from his apartment in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul for a while. Citizens may understand Yoon’s determination to leave the Blue House, a legacy of the imperial presidency, and move his presidential office to Yongsan. But why should ordinary citizens experience inconvenience from traffic control each day until he finally moves into the new presidential office?
It was Yoon’s directness as a prosecutor that helped him get elected president. As seen in his push for a 50-trillion-won supplementary budget amid mounting deficits, his instinct to move straight ahead seems to be alive the same as before. I hope Yoon demonstrates some flexibility and a sense of moderation before it’s too late.