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Critical lack of bureaucrats

July 25,2017
President Moon Jae-in nearly completed forming his first cabinet by naming three-term lawmaker of the ruling party Kim Young-joo as the labor minister. Once the minister for small, mid-sized and venture enterprises — a new post under the recently-passed government reorganization bill — is appointed, the administration will end an awkward cohabitation with ministers from the former Park Geun-hye government and will fully be made up of people recruited by Moon, who began office more than two months ago after winning a snap election.

Compared with the previous two conservative presidents who surrounded themselves with people from their universities and hometowns, Moon mostly filed his crew with renowned liberal scholars, civilian rights activists, and lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party. Their careers have made them strong in reasoning and sensitive to public opinions while less concerned about the cost, reality and legal grounds. Career bureaucrats must supplement their weaknesses.

The oversized share of elected officials — five lawmakers and three governors — in the cabinet also raise concerns about politicization of the administration. Only two — Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon and Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon — are traditional bureaucrats. The formation of the first cabinet raises concerns about the lack of balance and prudence in public policy making.

A politically-minded cabinet could be more democratic because it is sensitive to public opinion and votes. But it can be carefree about a policy’s repercussions on the future and public finance beyond five and even 10 years.

Crucial and ambitious decisions like suspending construction of two nuclear reactors and tax hikes on the rich have been made by the president and former lawmakers from the ruling party, bypassing opinions from bureaucratic members. The new administration must ensure that individual and party interests do not overwhelm national interests in public policymaking.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 24, Page 30