President Park Geun-hye plans to name a second deputy prime minister who will oversee educational, social and cultural affairs. The plan is part of a scheme to widely reorganize the government in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster.
Park said she wanted to create the post so the government would have four “control towers” built around the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and the national security chief.
She said the prime minister should be responsible for the rule of law, bureaucratic reform, social security and ending irregular practices in society. The current deputy prime minister for economic affairs and the national security chief will continue to oversee economy and security-foreign policy issues, respectively, she said, adding that she needed another deputy prime minister to take care of affairs that fall outside that realm.
It is understandable that Park, struggling to shake off the biggest crisis in her presidency, seeks to maximize the effect of the planned government reorganization and the consequent reshuffle of senior posts. Yet, it is doubtful that creating a new deputy prime minister’s post will do the nation much good.
As expected, the president’s plan to name a second deputy prime minister drew immediate criticism from the opposition as being another case of impromptu decision-making that would only result in a bigger government.
The post of the deputy prime minister has a long history, with President Park Chung-hee, the incumbent leader’s late father, creating one for economic affairs in 1963. All his successors but Lee Myung-bak kept the post, in the belief that economy should be one of the top priorities of their presidencies.
Then some leaders increased the number of the seats, starting with Roh Tae-woo who appointed a deputy prime minister for unification in 1988. This might well have been part of his push for “Nordpolitik,” the Northern Policy that aimed to improve relations with former East bloc countries and North Korea.
In 1998, Kim Dae-jung included in his inaugural Cabinet a deputy prime minister for education. His successor Roh Moo-hyun had three deputy prime ministers, for economy, education and science and technology.
So the nation has had many deputy prime ministers, but on many reckonings, few of them left outstanding achievements in their respective portfolios. This leads us to be skeptical about the new deputy prime minister as well, especially as under the presidential system, even the prime minister has little power and particularly under Park, who is well known for her “top-down” management style.
As if to alleviate this skepticism, Park, disclosing her plans to create a second deputy prime minister post, indicated that she may delegate some power to Cabinet ministers.
“I want to raise efficiency in and responsibility for (the government’s) decision-making (process) by appointing a deputy prime minister who will oversee educational, social and cultural affairs,” she said.
The president added that as society is complex, Cabinet ministers should divide responsibilities to ensure efficient and responsible management of state affairs.
Park should keep these words and delegate more power to ministers. Only then will her current “dictation Cabinet” become more autonomous, responsible and, more importantly, efficient in running the government.