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No Bridge Between Gov’t and Parties

Posted May. 17, 2008 19:15,   


“I’ve neglected the communication with the people, because I was paying a great deal of attention to reforming government ministries,” President Lee Myung-bak was quoted as saying on Friday by a participant of a recent luncheon with the president.

His remark shows President Lee’s conviction that the recent plunge in his approval ratings and growing media criticisms are attributed to a lack of communication. In fact, government ministries and the presidential office have been showing the symptoms of not only the lack of communication, but also the absence of communication. Some critics are even warning that the Lee administration may end up developing “arteriosclerosis.”

○ Absence of dialogue with political parties

The Lee administration, which openly claimed that it would break away from “the government’s dependence on politicians in Yeouido,” is now suffering from the lack of communication with them.

The lawmakers of the United Democratic Party (UDP) argue that no opposition party member has been in contact with Cheong Wa Dae officials lately on political affairs. The leaders of the UDP also complain that Cheong Wa Dae has never sought its understanding of or provided explanation on pending issues, such as the issue of U.S. beef import.

The government has also been at odds with the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) over virtually all major issues, such as a supplementary budget and reinstatement of defected Park Geun-hye followers. This is because the “bridge” that connects Cheong Wa Dae and the GNP has collapsed because President Lee’s close confidants, such as Reps. Lee Jae-oh, Jung Jong-bok and Park Hyung-joon, all lost in the April parliamentary elections.

The communication channel between the Lee administration and GNP former Chairwoman Park Geun-hye has long been blocked. Cheong Wa Dae officials also admit that none of them is capable of communicating with Park or her aides.

President Lee’s meeting with Park on Saturday at Cheong Wa Dae was arranged by Presidential Chief of Staff Yu Woo-ik and independent lawmaker Kim Moo-sung, in place of the official line of Senior Presidential Secretary for Political Affairs Bahk Jae-wan and Rep. Yoo Jeong-bok. The relationship between Lee and Park has gone from bad to worse since the gathering, partly because the two sides failed to reach an agreement on agendas prior to the meeting.

○ Deficiency of dialogue with ministries

After President Lee personally visited and reprimanded the Ilsan Police Station over their negligence on handling an attempted kidnapping of a school child, police stations nationwide have launched a new task force dealing with child abduction one after another. However, this has created considerable side effects as many of the homicide investigators had to be pulled out to join the new task forces, causing drainage of manpower for other serious crimes.

“We have been suffering from manpower shortage. It will be impossible for us to catch criminals if our men have to transfer to new teams. It is like pulling out a stone from the bottom (of a stone tower) only to place it on top,” said a police officer.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has recently bet all of its chips on resource diplomacy after the president stressed its importance. The ministry not only created a position, called energy resource ambassador, but also introduced a new system that allows overseas missions to hire local experts to assist them on resource-related matters. During the ministry’s briefing to the president in March, the entire 50 minutes given for discussion was spent to discuss energy diplomacy-related matters. The North Korean nuclear issue was not even mentioned despite its grave importance, according to sources.

The Board of Audit and Inspection is also complaining, saying that all of its manpower have been mobilized to investigate public corporations, preventing it from carrying out other duties.

“We appreciate that each ministry respects and follows the president’s wishes. However, their excessive loyalty is not desirable. The president wants them to be creative and change their way of thinking, instead of uniformly following his instructions,” said a Cheong Wa Dae official.

○ Absence of advice in and outside Cheong Wa Dae

Critics say that many Cheong Wa Dae officials also find it difficult to make their voices heard to the president. “The so-called, ‘people with a stake,’ who helped President Lee win the presidential election, can freely talk to him. But those ‘employed’ ones act according to the situation and do not dare to say what they have to say,” said a Cheong Wa Dae official. Moreover, the power struggle between presidential office departments is further disrupting communication among themselves.

Some also argue that the voice outside Cheong Wa Dae is not reaching to President Lee because his confidants that could not secure major government positions are reluctant to criticize or give advice to Lee. “When people give a piece of honest advice, those inside Cheong Wa Dae slander them, saying, ‘They are trying to take a big position here.’ So I’d rather shut up, than being misunderstood,” said a GNP official.