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Former Minister: Who Influences Roh?

Posted May. 19, 2006 03:05,   


The comments made by Korea International Trade Association (KITA) Chairman and former Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy Lee Hee-beom in his May 17 guest lecture at the Seoul National University Public Administration Graduate School that “the presidential senior secretaries of the Participatory Government are only grasping the current situation,” are stirring up turbulence.

In addition, Chairman Lee directly lashed out at the Participatory Government’s consultative decision-making system as having “many advantages but also many flaws.”

Who Influences the President’s Decision Making?—

As Chairman Lee’s comment that presidential senior secretaries cannot make their voices heard, and that some ministers have difficulties in persuading the president because they don’t have private meetings with the president, then who truly influences the president’s decision-making?

Considering that Chairman Lee was the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy from December 2003 to February 2006, or about two years, it is generally accepted that his comments cannot be easily overlooked.

Many fingers point at the 386-generation secretaries that are surrounding President Roh Moo-hyun, both inside and outside Cheong Wa Dae. That is because they are at the forefront of most posts in key offices, such as the Protocol Office, which manages President Roh’s major schedule, the Office of Information and Policy Monitoring, which helps the president reach decisions, as well as in managing the president’s messages.

In particular, a great number of secretaries in their 40s who are very close to President Roh have been promoted to senior secretaries of civil affairs, personnel affairs, and civic and social agenda earlier this month, showing the special trust that President Roh has in them.

Former presidential economic advisor Chung Tae-in, who was President Roh’s “economics teacher,” criticized in an interview last month, “Pressure and lobbying not to touch Samsung all came through the 386-generation. In reality, the 386-generation doesn’t know much and lacks expertise.”

Ministers Have Been Meeting the President—

On May 18, Cheong Wa Dae reacted very sensitively to the comments of Chairman Lee. Spokesperson Jung Tae-ho stated, “The way of reaching decisions by private meetings, a decision-making process of the authoritarian times, has vanished, and all decision-making is decided by the consultative system. In this process, ministers have easily met the president.”

A Cheong Wa Dae official pointed out, “Individual reports by senior secretaries on current affairs have been taking place all the time. Chairman Lee went too far trying to emphasize his achievements while in office.”

On the same day, Chairman Lee also released a clarification through KITA saying, “In the Participatory Government, decisions are usually made through consultative meetings, and that has many advantages but also a few flaws. There are times when private meetings with the president are necessary, and I think I used private meetings very often.”

In a phone-interview with Dong-A Ilbo he explained, “On the comment that the presidential senior secretaries are only grasping the current situation, I meant it in the context that compared with past governments, the Participatory Government is listening more to the cabinet rather than the senior secretaries.”

Yeon-Wook Jung jyw11@donga.com