[VIEWPOINT]Don’t wing it, Mr. PresidentWednesday was the 100th day of President Roh Moo-hyun’s “participatory” administration. Despite his higher support rate in the presidential election than either Kim Young-sam or Kim Dae-jung, his popularity declined sharply between then and the 100th day since he took office.
While the two former presidents had popularity ratings of about 80 percent on their 100th days, President Roh has a mere 50 percent support rate. What is the problem?
Mr. Roh became president by overcoming the existing political establishment represented by “three Kims” era of political bosses.
He was elected president as a result of the adoption of a system for nominating presidential candidates based on primary elections. That was bolstered by an election campaign that he conducted through the Internet and was buoyed by people’s enthusiastic expectations of political change despite Mr. Roh’s weak support within his party. The unpredictable words and behavior of Mr. Roh as a candidate and of his campaign aides were accepted as a fresh breeze, so people expected a fundamental change in the rigid political system based on regionalism and party leadership.
President Roh’s new style of appointing ministers and discussion-centered method of problem-solving were a culture shock to the people who were accustomed to an authoritarian political culture. People also could read his participatory government’s strong will to change fundamentally what was wrong with the existing system.
But the limitations of the administration during the first 100 days in office were probably because it merely changed governing styles and forms. It is wrong for this administration to simply pass the buck to the people, blaming them for their failure to overcome the cultural shock.
One hundred days of experiment could not be rated positively because it did not conduct a systemic government. National administration should be carried out by coordinating a variety of opinions of interest groups. Politics is not something engaged in by the president or a minister alone. For systemic politics, first of all, there should be a clear vision and philosophy for national administration. Mr. Roh’s participatory government may have the appearance of reform, but few people know the core content of the reforms he champions. The transition committee and his aides neglected the establishment of such a philosophy for the Roh administration. In order for national administration to be performed systemically, there should be a firm goal and philosophy for the system. But the Roh administration is weak here. Consequently, when the government compromises with reality, its policy orientation appears to be shaky.
Second, national administration should be conducted by a team. Even in a soccer game, if there is no teamwork, no matter how many stars there are on the team, the play turns out to be messy.
Some ministers’ unpredictable behavior cannot be understood as just expressions of their individuality. The national administration cannot be operated efficiently when a minister takes the lead in a campaign against the Saemangeum reclamation project, when another minister doesn’t know what to do in implementing the National Education Information System and a third minister is distressed over a truckers’ strike.
A minister is a member of the State Council and officially participates in policy-making of a country. Policies should be coordinated in the State Council under the leadership of the president, and ministers should implement policies as representatives of the government. The president should not make excuses, saying that he left the matter to his ministers’ discretion but their liberal leanings brought about bad results.
If no coordination of policies is achieved among the Blue House staff and ministers, uncertainty increases and policies are implemented to maximize the political gains of interest groups.
Third, for systemic politics, thorough simulations should be conducted in advance. The government should not blame unpredictable variables in the environment for a policy failure.
“Unpredictable changes in the domestic and international environment” is nothing but an excuse for a failure to analyze policies efficiently. If simulations are not intensive, policies tend to bring unintended results.
The government should examine policy alternatives, taking the least probable environmental factors into consideration. This is because if one fails to be elected president, one can try again next time, but national administration cannot be replayed.
Of course the presidency is a difficult job. For that reason, we acknowledge the authority of the president and respect him. Ministers and staff should not think lightly of national administration either.
There are, naturally, continuous betrayals and critical groups in the world of politics. The reform of style can appear to be working for a short period. But if there are no solid philosophy for national administration and thorough simulations of policy changes, the government cannot avoid bad marks in a longer-term evaluation.
* The writer is a professor of public administration at Korea University.
by Yeom Jae-ho
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