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[Donga Plaza] Straight talk needed to, from president

Posted December. 12, 2000 10:21,   


At the inaugural ceremony of President Kim Dae-Jung on Feb. 25, 1998, Cardinal Kim Soo-Hwan was in attendance. For the ceremony, then-spokesperson for the People`s Millennium Democratic Party (MDP), Rep. Chung Dong-Young, accompanied the cardinal. During the ceremony, Cardinal Kim conveyed insightful advice to the Rep. Chung.

"The well-being of the country depends on the president. Whether Korea overcomes the economic crisis depends on how well the president governs the nation."

"What does it mean to do well?"

"The president must be willing keep his ears open to the words of truth even though they might be bitter words. I have often times been to Chong Wa Dae and found it a difficult place to speak truthfully and have my words heard."

It has been 34 months since the exchange took place. Rep. Chung spoke seriously at a meeting in Chong Wa Dae with President Kim and the highest-ranking officials of MDP.

"The very source of the current crisis arises from the mistrust of the people. To the people, the MDP`s highest-ranking official, Kwon Roh-Kap, is perceived much like Kim Hyun-Chul during the Kim Young-Sam Administration. All of us must once again remember and return to the ideals we pledged during the election and start the process of governance anew."

Although three years apart, it is curious that Rep. Chung Dong-Young was at the center of both. It is highly improbable that Cardinal Kim advised straight talk in prediction of the current situation. It is also improbable for Rep. Chung to have thought he would indeed be put in a position to become the conveyer of such words three years hence. However, it appears Rep. Chung has kept the advice by Cardinal Kim ringing in his heart over the years. Rep. Chung reiterated the exchange he had with Cardinal Kim during the inaugural ceremony.

In all honesty, I do not have tangible evidence that Rep. Chung`s words at Chong Wa Dae were straight talk. However, I am certain that his words spoken before the president and Rep. Kwon were bitter truth, which was not spoken easily. As such, now all depends on President Kim. If the words were considered bitter but true, Rep. Chung`s suggestions would be accepted. On the other hand, if the words are considered bitter but arising from a mistaken notion, other decision will be forthcoming.

As the president made his way for a trip abroad to accept the Nobel Peace Prize a few days ago, he said, "Upon my return, I will put through a reform of the government the people desire." He pledged to hear the voices of the people and adopt a comprehensive cleanup measure of the government and the administration. He pledged to listen with an open mind to whatever the people might say and upon confirmation with the people, the government will be overhauled accordingly and decisively.

Such a pledge by the president ought to put hope in the hearts of the people, as they wait expectantly for the reform. However, that does not appear to be the case. There seems to be an equal number of people who are pessimistic about whether any tangible change will be forthcoming. At the root of such pessimism is the government`s history of decisions of self-interest and the myriad of resulting trials and errors.

For example, soon after the International Monetary Fund intervention in the Korean economy, many experts warned that the "big deal" restructuring of major conglomerates should not be considered the single fix-all measure into which all government agencies pour their resources. However, the government stressed that the big deals were the nation¡¯s only chance and sacrificed other comprehensive restructuring measures. As a result, the government is at its wit`s end in trying to reverse and change course.

In 1998, many advised President Kim to first reconcile with the former President Kim Young-Sam prior to a public hearing to determine those responsible for the economic crisis even as the nation foundered. Turing a deaf ear, the hearings were held, and as a result, a rather vague conclusion was reached that the fault for the economic crisis lay with all economic agencies of the government including the ruling and the opposition parties. It only added to the rift in regionalism, as well. Even now, the Kim Young-Sam faction supplies the foundation for the venomous remarks toward the current administration.

It was much the same during the "boutique scandal." Although the scandal resulted from the wives of the politically influential powerhouses, it seemed a bit illogical to promote the chief of the Prosecutor¡¯s Office, whose wife was at the center of the scandal, to the post of minister of justice. President Kim ignored the media`s backlash. What has happened since? The people have only become ever more suspicious of the very ability of the government and that the president has lost touch with the people, his eyes blinded and ears deaf.

Although this might be an exaggerated conclusion, the voice of the ruling party members calling for a return to the basics, seems to be aimed toward President Kim. It calls for a president who opens his ears to all, bitter and sweet, in order to make the correct decision on the basis of "serving the people as high-borne masters."

Once again, Korea waits expectantly for the reform of the government. It is the hope of many that one day soon even the sectors of the Korean community that are cynical about President Kim`s Nobel Prize, could say, "Wow! Real reform!"

Min Byung-Wook, editorial writer