Let's move Cheong Wa Dae
A former president once said that Cheong Wa Dae was like a prison without bars and a lonely place at night. In fact, the Blue House is surrounded by a wall. At the rear is a mountain, and the streets in front of it are full of secret service agents in suits, generating an atmosphere of heightened tension. Even though it is supposed to be open to the public, they say it takes weeks of thorough background checks for an ordinary citizen to be granted access to a tour that does not allow them inside the building.
Moreover, the offices of presidential secretaries are in a different building, so even the chief of staff has to drive there and go through a security check by secret service agents to enter. By living in such a place, the president is completely isolated.
From what I hear, an incumbent president is surrounded by a ``wall of people’’ that consists of a select number of presidential secretaries and other close aides, and even during Cabinet meetings, all he hears is “Everything is fine,” or “You are right.” As no one speaks their mind, meetings tend to end with presidents giving orders to the Cabinet and staff. Close aides separate presidents from the nation. They determine presidential policy and many reports do not even reach the president without first being examined and approved by the aides, as they make decisions on the issues in most reports. Thus, as time goes on, their power increases, and the president becomes more isolated.
President Lee Myung-bak is no exception. As his presidency limps into its lame-duck period, the same old way scenario of presidential aides going to prison for corruption offenses, is repeating itself. Koreans have already seen several times how things unfold in a situation like this. Even if these people are given harsh sentences, they are eventually granted a special pardon. After lying low for a while, they are then elected into the National Assembly or become a provincial governor. All this happens because presidents become isolated from the people allowing those with access to him to gain and abuse power. As a solution to this cyclical problem, I would like to make a couple of suggestions.
First, the Blue House should be moved downtown where the president can retain frequent contact with ordinary people and see everyday life through the windows of his office. The White House is located in the middle of Washington D.C. Next to it are hotels and businesses, and the streets are busy with people shopping. People can tour the inside of the White House after access through a single security check point. If they are lucky, they can get a brief glimpse of the president at work. Hence, thousands of people from all over the world visit the White House. In the U.S., it is difficult for close aides to isolate the president as if he were a sort of mysterious figure.
Secondly, the new office of vice-president should be created. A vice-president should run as the running mate to a president and serve the same term of office. Let’s remove the office of prime minister, and instead, have a vice-president elected by the people. The reality is that our country’s prime minister is used for changing political situations and is replaced almost every year. The position is also ridiculed as disposable figurehead appointment.
I also heard that the president’s close aides think little of serving prime ministers, because no one expects them to be incumbent for long. The obvious goal of a vice- president is to become the next president. Since his current administration should succeed in order for his goal to be achieved, a vice-president would not neglect his duties to the serving administration, and he can also tell the president the truth without hesitation. During a Cabinet meeting, he would not mince his words to ministers and the president. On a vice-president’s watch, there would be no corruption of the people closest to the president.
Having a vice-president would not cost more. The current budget for the office of the prime minister would be enough. The same office and residence could be used by just changing the badge of office. In this complex world, it is better to have a president and a vice-president putting their heads together to find solutions to the major issues that face our country than to have a president alone working on them. Having a vice-president is also the best way to prevent the corruption the president’s inner-circle. By staying close to the people, a vice-president can manage their opinions more effectively, and the position would also have the effect of reducing the enormous powers of the president.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of Kim Chang Joon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).