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How Many Pledges Has Pres. Lee Kept in His 1st Year?

Posted December. 17, 2008 08:36,   


Immediately before the presidential election, Lee Myung-bak released a book on his promises titled, “Advanced Nation Korea, a Community of Hope,” and promised to become an economy president.

He said he would either achieve the goals related to 11 critical policies this year or create a foundation for the policies, and even gave deadlines. Lee was eventually elected president.

With two days left before his administration’s first anniversary, The Dong-A Ilbo examines how many promises Lee has kept in his first year in office.

○ Accomplished or promoted

President Lee promised to reshuffle the government before the end of February. Despite strong resistance from the main opposition Democratic Party, he has partially kept the promise.

In the presidential campaign, he said, “The government is too big and fiscal spending has jumped. I’ll reshuffle the government’s 56 central administrative agencies into large-scale agencies and departments. Also, I’ll freeze the number of government officials.”

He also partly accomplished his goal of granting media autonomy before the end of the year. Upon inauguration, President Lee abolished the Government Information Agency and government measures for “developing an advanced media support system,” which invited criticism of state control of the media.

The ruling Grand National Party is also trying to abolish the Newspaper Act and other media laws before the end of the parliamentary extra session.

His promise to reduce or cut taxes has also been partly achieved, as the National Assembly passed relevant bills Friday.

○ Below expectations

One of President Lee’s major campaign pledges was to privatize state-owned companies. He shifted gears, however, after the candlelight rallies broke out and strong resistance came from unions. As he now puts management improvement ahead of privatization, he is unlikely to achieve his initial goal to secure 60 trillion won (44 billion U.S dollars) in financial resources to help smaller companies and seek new growth engines, which in turn will lead to job creation.

The administration’s North Korea policy, also called “Denuclearization, Opening 3000,” is on the backburner after the shooting death in July of a South Korean tourist in the Mount Kumgang area.

Worse, the six-party talks also ended last week with no results due to differences over nuclear verification between the United States and North Korea. President Lee will apparently decide if and when to use the policy depending on Pyongyang’s attitude toward the incoming Obama administration in Washington.

The Korean government is also pursuing President Lee’s promise of a “global science business belt” to use land more efficiently, but has produced no visible results. He also pledged to amend laws on childcare, early childhood education and pension, but this process has been hampered by the outbreak of the global financial crisis in September.

The presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae, however, said it is devising effective measures since economic difficulties could spell doom for many in the middle-income bracket.

The government is also attempting to cut its spending 10 percent, though indirectly. An official of the Strategy and Finance Ministry said, “We’ll cut unnecessary public spending and labor costs, but we cannot reduce the budget since we need to inject more money into the economy due to the economic crisis.”

The government’s budget for 2009 is up 10.6 percent from this year’s at 284.5 trillion won (208 billion dollars).

○ Abolished or frustrated

A broken promise of President Lee is the enactment of the Special Act on the Construction of the Grand Canal by June this year and construction of a canal linking Seoul and Busan next year.

The government is now pursuing a cleanup project for the country’s four major rivers of the Han, Nakdong, Geumgang and Yeongsan, though critics say this is a disguise for the revival of the canal project. Even if this scenario is realized, however, President Lee is unlikely to keep his promised deadline.

His spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said yesterday, “President Lee Myung-bak is determined not to pursue the grand canal project if Koreans are against it.”

The president initially promised to establish effective measures to achieve growth of seven percent by June this year, but the government announced yesterday a forecast of three percent next year.

Another promise was to build 500,000 housing units. Though the government has provided systematic support, construction companies are reeling from sluggish demand in the housing market.

The government announced a higher limit on the floor area ratio of reconstructed apartments of 300 percent to boost the real estate market. Builders, however, say they hope for new government measures that will help them sell unsold apartments in the provinces.