[Editorial] Delegate authority
Cheong Wa Dae power should be reduced to bolster responsibility of PM, ministers
Published : Apr 6, 2022 - 05:30
Updated : Apr 6, 2022 - 05:30
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is stepping up preparations to form the first Cabinet of his administration.

He nominated former Prime Minister Han Duck-soo as prime minister, and rumors have flown about who will be named as deputy prime ministers and ministers.

Kim Eun-hye, Yoon’s spokesperson, said on Monday that Yoon would try to announce the full lineup of the Cabinet next week at the latest.

Yoon met with Han on Sunday ahead of announcing his nomination of prime minister.

Han reportedly said during the talk that if Yoon nominates ministers who are allowed to recommend vice ministers, the work atmosphere of public officials would get remarkably better. He also reportedly said that if ministers are given more authority over personnel, teamwork between public officials would be stronger. This means that the president should substantially delegate a considerable amount of authority and responsibility to the prime minister and ministers. It is the right direction.

Fortunately, Yoon seems positive on the suggestion. As a presidential candidate, he showed the will to strengthen the responsibility of the prime minister. Other presidential candidates shared the view, citing the need to hold an “imperial president” in check. Some opined that the Constitution should be amended to guarantee it.

Past presidents have also made campaign pledges to strengthen the responsibility of the prime minister, but the promises mostly ended in empty talk as the presidential office refused to empower the prime minister.

One of the longstanding problems of South Korea’s domestic politics stems from an excessive concentration of power on the president. The president is powerful to the extent of being likened to a king or an emperor, while the power of the prime minister is treated as merely cosmetic.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that ministries are simply puppets moving to the orders by the presidential office. Critics called the Cheong Wa Dae under President Moon Jae-in “a government above the government.”

Nuclear phase-out and real estate polices are cases in point. The presidential office formulated policies and related ministers carried the ball.

Ministries were reduced to something like subcontractors of the presidential office. As a result, policies failed to properly reflect voices of the public and front-line officials.

The presidential office often intervened in personnel affairs related to not only vice ministers but also those below them. The status of ministers and their organizational leadership cannot but fall. Former staff members of the presidential office were appointed to senior posts at government-affiliated public organizations, regardless of competence and experience.

The Constitution stipulates that the prime minister shall supervise ministries under the orders of the president. It also stipulates that the president should receive the prime minister’s recommendations before appointing ministers, and that the prime minister can suggest the dismissal of ministers to the president.

However, the reality has been different. The statutory authority of the prime minster is bound to be lip service unless the president bolsters it.

The first thing to do is to weaken the powers of presidential staff including senior secretaries and secretaries. The president must break custom of the staff trying to reign over ministries. It is abnormal for them to wield power over ministries.

The president-elect is said to have told Han that giving the prime minister more authority and responsibility would be much more efficient in the overall operation of the government. Yoon also said that he would consider ministers’ opinions first in appointing vice ministers.

Yoon must avoid making an error of delegating authority only during the early stages of his presidency, then returning to an imperial presidency.

Han’s suggestion that minister nominees recommend vice ministers was made to motivate public officials to remove an apathetic attitude toward work. It can be a starting point to normalize the government administration.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)