The old guard must learn to step down

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The old guard must learn to step down

Hong Jang-pyo — the president of state think tank Korea Development Institute (KDI) who was the architect of the income-led growth policy under the former Moon Jae-in administration — offered to resign. He did not leave quietly. He said he did not wish to remain in the seat if Prime Minister Han Duck-soo chooses not to listen to different voices. He also criticized the private-led growth under the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration as profit-led growth through tax cuts and deregulation.

Hong went on to say that if the prime minister thinks the KDI and other state think tanks must work to indulge the sitting power, he must seek to change the law on public think tanks. Hong’s remarks came after Han said in a press conference that it was not appropriate for the architect of the income-led growth policy to head the KDI.

Hong’s remarks are sheer sophistry. It is true that policies must seek the right direction through rigorous debate among people with different ideas and thoughts and the independence of research institutes should be respected. But his comment is totally out of context as he designed the economic policy of the previous administration which had a totally different economic approach to the current one. Income-led growth seriously impaired the economy over the last five years. Steep rises in the minimum wage wrecked self-employed businesses. According to Statistics Korea, as many as 3.21 million people subject to the minimum wage could not earn it, which suggests how unrealistic the hikes were. The Moon administration’s aggressive fiscal expansion to help finance income-led growth has increased national liabilities to over 1,000 trillion won.

The heads of public institutions who backed income-led growth and the nuclear phase-out must resign to share responsibility for the disastrous results. Kim Je-nam, president of the Korea Foundation of Nuclear Safety and champion of nuclear reactor abolition, had been appointed to the seat just a month before the March 9 presidential election. Im Choon-ta, who became the director of the Korea Energy Economics Institute last year, is a fundamentalist advocating an exit from nuclear energy. Han Sang-hyuk, chair of the Korea Communications Commission, and Jeon Hyun-hee, commissioner of the Anti-corruption and Civil Rights Commission, both appointed by the former president, also must surrender their titles.

Although their terms are protected by the law, they must bow out if they were unquestionably biased toward a certain party. The heads of science and tech institutes who were relatively independent from political influence could finish their terms. But as Hong proposed, a new law on appointing heads of state institutions should be revised to better reflect public opinion.
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