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The importance of secretaries

June 01,2018
The government has been reiterating that Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon is the captain of the economic command center. But he may have been just a figurehead, given the treatment he got during a president-chaired meeting on household income affairs at the Blue House. Jang Ha-sung, the president’s policy chief, and Kim reportedly were engaged in a heated debate over factors behind worsening income disparities.

Jang pointed to demographic structural factors — thinning working population and aging society, above all. But the finance minister brought up the side effects of the government-driven spikes in the minimum wage. After the meeting, a presidential spokesman said the administration will continue to hold economy-related meetings led by the policy chief, Jang.

When the comment came under criticism, he said Jang will work together with cabinet ministers to address the problems. The finance minister was more or less demoted to just another one of the cabinet members.

The Moon administration has repeatedly come under fire for overstretching the role of the presidential staff, giving little say to members of the cabinet. But the government’s promise that it would entrust ministers with more power has been an empty slogan. Since the beginning of the year, the deputy prime minister was to make monthly reports for the president. But that does not suggest any weight has been given to the cabinet chief in charge of economic affairs.

The policy chief and senior secretaries are aides to the president. Supervising state agendas and coordinating administrative affairs also would be a part of their work. But the administrative role would weaken if the presidential staff wants to take charge of all affairs. Sakong Il, who was senior secretary for economic affairs under President Chun Doo-hwan, rightly pointed out that it had been a tradition to credit the minister in charge even when a senior presidential secretary stepped in to coordinate affairs or change policies. A secretary’s role should not be any different now than it was then. The administration’s economic team has lost even more face due to the insensible statement from the presidential office.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 31, Page 30