Winning back dignity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 12:00am

South Korea's Kim Dae-jung is trying to ensure his presidency ends on a high instead of the low it is now mired in. But he is probably mistaken if he believes that revamping his cabinet for the third time in a year will win back the credibility lost by a series of corruption scandals and a plummeting economy.

By law, Mr Kim can serve only one five-year term and with it ending in 12 months, he is scrambling to leave office with a tangible legacy. Opinion polls show opposition political candidates poised to succeed him and time is running out.

Cabinet reshuffles have not helped Mr Kim so far and there is no reason they will this time. He should have started taking action in the first half of his term rather than in his final year to do the things South Korea so badly needs, such as restructuring financial institutions and stamping out corruption.

The President has done his best. More than a dozen banking, economic and intelligence officials have resigned or been arrested in recent months over corruption. But the scandals have come increasingly closer to Mr Kim and his family. A tainted economic adviser involved in a graft case was among those replaced yesterday.

But the cosmetics of also replacing the unification, justice, education, information and telecommunications, trade, labour, health and welfare, science and technology ministers, and six advisers will not win Mr Kim accolades or do anything other than slow the reform process. Loud calls for economic reform can hardly be appeased with the retention of Finance Minister Jin Nyun, while replacing Unification Minister Hong Soon-young will please North Korea - which has been calling for his sacking - but will not improve inter-Korean relations, which will be set back this year by domestic events.

Mr Kim's Nobel Peace Prize for advancing Korean relations through his 'sunshine' policy will undoubtedly be his biggest achievement, even though his plan is still unfinished.

But he can do much more for South Korea than to think in terms of policies reaching fruition. Rather, he should be putting in place strong policies that will benefit the nation and can be carried over into the next administration.