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Listen to the bureaucrats

June 10,2017
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In the past few days, President Moon Jae-in’s transition committee has not been happy, to say the least, with the briefings it has been receiving from government ministries. “Public servants only change the cover of reports,” the committee lamented. “They are not sincere about lowering telecom fees,” it said. “Submit a plan by this week,” the committee demanded.

A new administration’s influence is strongest in the beginning, and officialdom is atrophied by the reprimands of Moon’s transition committee. The Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning is in a panic, worried that the committee might believe it is opposed to reducing telecom fees, one of Moon’s core campaign promises. A director-level ministry official, who wished to remain unnamed, said, “Election promises are not the absolute good that must be implemented. We can begin to resolve problems by surveying what can be carried out, but no one is speaking up because we are overwhelmed by the advisory committee. We have no choice but to give the answer the committee wants.”

Rough words can lead to grave mistakes. Lee Gae-ho, chairman of the committee’s economic section II, said on Thursday, “It is the stance of the committee to abolish all basic mobile fees, including 2G, 3G and LTE. Nothing has changed from the president’s campaign promises.”

A day earlier, lawmaker Choi Min-hee of the same committee section said, “Fees can be eliminated starting from users with low income, 2G and 3G phones.” The stance changed in a day, and it sounded like the direction was not set.

Mobile service fees are an integral part of people’s lives, so the issue can easily be used for political gain. Naturally, lowering fees has been the usual promise of past administrations. Under President Lee Myung-bak, though, it took three controversy-laden months before the basic fee was reduced by just 1,000 won (90 cents) from 12,000 won.

The Moon administration needs to take into account Korea’s ICT competitiveness and global leadership in 5G. Abolishing the basic fee comes from a place of good intentions, but it is undesirable to chastise public servants in the course of promoting the policy. Bureaucrats feel discouraged when they are not considered a partner but a target of reform, a group advocating corporate interests. When abolishing the basic fee is considered the correct answer and the government operates as if it is checking homework, it can lead to adverse side effects.

The role of Moon’s transition committee is to objectively assess the successes and failures of the previous administration, learn from its mistakes and failures, and implement the governing philosophy of the new president. It can be attained not by giving orders and directions but by listening and using the language of consultation. People want to see how the committee can bring together the wisdom of public organizations and resolve pending issues.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 9, Page 33

*The author is an industrial news reporter at the JoongAng Ilbo.

PARK TAE-HEE