President Moon Jae-in’s decision to seek a much smaller-than-expected reorganization of the Cabinet ministries was well advised. Most of all, it would help the civil service easily settle down into a routine under the new liberal government.
In some sense, it would have been inevitable for the Moon administration to minimize shutdowns, mergers and creations of government agencies, which had become a routine for almost every recent administration.
Moon took the presidency through an unscheduled election, which deprived him of a transition period which otherwise would have given him enough time to think about how to reorganize the government.
Moon and his aides may also have considered the reality that it lacks control of the National Assembly, where the ruling party is already facing an uphill battle to get approval for Moon’s nominations for candidates for key Cabinet posts.
The rival parties are also bracing for a tough battle over Moon’s proposal to write a supplementary budget plan to back his controversial election promise to radically increase jobs in the public sector.
Whatever factors may have affected the final proposal, which was unveiled Monday after a meeting of senior officials from the Blue House, the ruling and the government, is quite different from what Moon and his party had said during the election campaign.
A think tank of Moon’s Democratic Party had suggested the merger of the Ministry of Health and Welfare with the Ministry of Employment and Labor. It also proposed splitting the Ministry of Strategy and Finance into one dealing with finance and the other overseeing economic planning and strategy.
Moon and party officials also talked about the possibility of disbanding or trimming down each of the ministries dealing with education, culture and science.
Fortunately, such radical ideas were not included in the final proposal, saving the civil service from the confusion and inefficiency they usually encounter in the first months of each new administration.
Moon also did well to retract his pledge to have the Foreign Ministry take charge of trade affairs which is now under the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. Instead, the final proposal calls for the status of the trade unit to be upgraded, and its chief will be called the minister of trade.
As officials explained, ensuring stability and continuity in the trade-related organizations and human resources is important considering the urgent need to tackle -- among other things -- US President Donald Trump’s move to renegotiate the Korea-US free trade agreement.
Another highlight of the government reorganization plan is upgrading the Small and Medium Business Administration -- led by a vice minister-level official -- into a full Cabinet ministry. It comes in line with Moon’s promise to support small firms and start-ups.
It also was a good decision to disband the Ministry of Public Safety and Security which had been hastily created in November 2014 in the wake of the Sewol ferry disaster in April that year. The fire and disaster service and the maritime police which had been put under the ministry will become independent agencies. The nation will be safer with the two agencies enjoying greater autonomy.
As ruling party policy chief Kim Tae-nyon said, the final proposal does not contain any big contentious issues that could invite a negative response from the opposition.
Kim said the ruling party will submit a government reorganization bill to the National Assembly soon. The opposition has little grounds to oppose that and it should act fast to set the new administration into motion.
Nevertheless, there is a possibility that the reorganization bill may be tied up with other parliamentary business like confirmation of senior administration officials nominated by Moon and the supplementary budget bill. Moon and the ruling party need prudence and refrain from resorting to unilateral action regarding key parliamentary and state affairs.