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Development Overview

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Overview of Korea’s development experience

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Development Overview
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General

Overview: 1960~1979

In April 19, 1960, civil revolution led by the students forced the president Rhee to step down from his power. Subsequently, the Second Republic started with a parliamentary and decentralized government system to strengthen the democratic mechanisms in Korean society as a natural solution to the dictatorship under the presidential system. Borrowing from the British government system, the Second Republic of Korea had a government system that: strengthened basic civil rights in the areas of enhancing and protecting individual freedom; the president would serve as a symbolic figure representing the Korea whereas the true political power would lie with the prime minister; enhancing accountability by allowing impeachment of cabinet members by the parliament and dissolution of the parliament by the cabinet; two houses of representatives in the parliament where the lower house would have more decision authorities; strengthening the political neutrality of police forces; and direct votes to elect executives of the local governments.
 
However, such a change did not enjoy the luxury of having ample time to experiment and to institutionalize the new form of government. Political and social distress in the early stage of this experimentation induced the military coup in May 16, 1961, led by a group of young officials in the military and headed by the late president Park, Junghee, to subdue the situations. Anti-communism, anti-corruption, ending poverty, enhancing capacity to confront the North, and so forth were the political slogans of those who seized the political power.
 
The government system was once again changed to a neo-presidential system where political power was highly concentrated on the president without much of check-and-balance. Instead of having a vice president, prime minister served as the symbolic head of the executive branch in the government. The president had authority to appoint the prime minister without the National Assembly’s approval, where the structure of the National Assembly not having two houses. The president would not have the power to dissolute the National Assembly, but in return the legislative branch would not have the constitutional authority to impeach the prime minister and the members of the cabinet. The Cabinet would serve as advisory body, contrary to that under the parliamentary system. Since the president also served as the head of the majority (ruling) party, most of the collective decision-making power was concentrated on the president himself.
 
What followed afterwards was the 18 years of strong political dictatorship under the Third Republic of Korea along with a new constitution adopted in December 17, 1962 through universal votes. This concentration of political power got reinforced by another amendment to the constitution (Yushin, the Fourth Republic) in October 17, 1972, where it put the president above all three branch of the government. Now the presidential election was done indirectly through electoral body, national security was put on the top of all policy agenda along with the aggressive promotion of the heavy and chemical industry. In retrospect, such a concentration of political power and policy decision-making by government elite groups (including technocrats) reduced political risks and uncertainties in Korean society, despite the lost periods of democracy.
 
The periods under the Park’s regime marked a remarkably rapid economic growth that had not been observed in any other countries around the world. Under the concentration of political power and unswayed commitment by the late president Park, a series of economic development plans were strategically composed to achieve rapid economic growth by sharing policy goals and strategic targets, not just within the government but also with each and every private sector. Such economic development strategies contributed to the development of logrolling relationships between the government and a selected number of business firms, partly granting them monopoly rents over the domestic market. Top-down military culture and ‘can-do’ spirit prevailed among the Korean people and the society throughout these periods.
 
Another remarkable trend during these periods was the rise of technocrats in government, replacing the political elites in the past. Highly commited and dedicated public servants gradually and sometimes rapidly rose in ranks, where their ideas, perspectives and policy agendas were adopted and implemented through in-depth debates amongst themselves. Policy ideas that stood up to scrutiny were recommended to the president, where he almost always had accepted them as they were. Interestingly enough, political interests and concerns did not affect most of the final decisions, and those were quickly implemented through highly centralized government system where even the heads of the local governments were appointed by the president.
 
 
1. Political System
Democracy became a luxury during these periods and anti-communism was the central theme in politics. Division of power and check and balances did not exist despite the appearance of having three branches of the government, where the head of the majority party was almost always the president himself. Economic development agendas constantly occupied the attention by the top decision-makers surrounding the president. Opposition parties were relatively weak in its strengthes without any practical means to block the president’s initiatives, and such was revolving around a number of pronounced opposition leaders that could be describe as faction leaders. Subsequently, most of the presidential policy agendas were adopted quickly in the National Assembly, even those policy agendas that almost all the others in policy communities opposed to.
 
To extend his presidential power into a third term, the constitution was once again amended in 1969 and shortly after the October Revitalizing Reforms (Yushin) took place in October 17, 1972, putting the president above all three branches of the government with a life-tenure. The presidential election had occurred indirectly through the electoral body, guaranteeing extension of the presidentship. The nature of the dictatorship was reinforced by royal technocrats, resembling the system of monarchy. Paternalistic political perspectives prevailed during these periods where the Korean people expect the government to answer all their problems, yet did not know how to participate actively in the policy-making process. 

2. Governance
After the short experimentation with the parliamentary system, the basic structure of the government remained the same: presidential system with three branches of government. In an attempt to combine the advantageous features of the parliamentary system and the presidential system, the prime minister’s office was also created to serve as the head of the central administration. However, the central control over all levels of government became much stronger by having the constitutional amendment as appointing governors and mayors of local government. Furthermore, there was no legislative function at lower level of government thereby making them as extended agencies implementing policy decisions made at the top.
 
Consequently, top-down hierarchical culture was the central theme in policy implementation and providing public services, and often it is perceived as ‘governing the public’ rather than ‘providing public services.’ Such a control by the central government over the local government was reinforced by the limited public resources being controled by it. In addition, there were especially strong political influences on judiciary branch as well, not to mention those existed in the centralized police forces.
 
The Board of Audit and Inspection was created in March 1963 directly under the presidential office, contrary to the case of the US where Government Accounting Office (GAO) was placed within the legislative branch. Since the president had the authority to appoint the head of the Board, along with those of the National Policy Agency, of the Public Procecutor General (the Attorney General in US), and of the National Tax Service, the president weilded considerable ‘real’ power through these power centers in the government.
 
3. Public Administration
It was the era of shaping the basic roles and structures of the public administrations and agencies of the modern government in Korea. Minstries and agencies were reshaped and created to handle the government functions more effectively and efficiently. The earlier training of public officials in the area of public administration in US greatly enhanced the supply of highly capable personnel in the government, reinforced by the National Exam for mid-level entry into the government.
 
What was most notable in the Korea’s unique feature of public administration was the creation of the Economic Planning Board (EPB) in July 1961 under the Prime Minister’s Office, separately from the Ministry of Finance. The rank of the head of the EPB was a vice prime minister, and it also had economy development planning as well as budgeting function within the same agency.
 
All of the government spending decisions was made through the EPB, strengthening the planning function as well. Moreover, the president intentionally put more political weight to the head of the EPB to such an extent that it served as the coordinating body of all the economic polices during this era. Series of the Five-year Economic Development Plan were developed through the EPB and it ensured full implementation of such by having the budget allocation authority.
 
With the gaining of political powers by the technocrats in government, the continuous training of government officials by sending them abroad to learn the administrative functions and skills of the western government reinforced and tremendously increased the capacities of these new groups of elites: namely, technocrats. Upon completion of such training, many remained within the government and experimented with what they have learned overseas in the Korean context. The creation of the Korea Development Institute (KDI) and its relationship with the EPB was yet another notable area for detailed investigation.
 
 
4. Law and Legislation
At the beginning of the Third Republic, the judiciary branch of the government at least had a strong resemblance to the US judiciary branch, where the Constitutional Court was closed down and the Supreme Court assumed the roles and functions of the Constitutional Court. The Supreme Court had the authority to order dissolution of a political party, and the members of the Supreme Court were selected based on the recommendation made by a separate nomination committee for Supreme Court judges.
 
Due to the limited role played by the legislative branch in the government under the strong dictatorship, majority of the policy agendas were initiated by the ministry officials. The National Assembly did carry out their formal duties of checking the policy issues proposed by the executive branch, and yet almost all the issues were adopted as proposed. Even so, to avoid unnecessary conflict in the National Assembly, ministry officials were careful in screening out those issues that required change in exisiting laws and those that could be done within the existing regulatory authorities under each ministry.
 
Another notable thing was the frequent use of the Presidential Decree to overcome the political resistance to the new policy agenda. The control of the centralized policy force and the public prosecutors ensured the strong grips on every member of the society, reinforced by the unique situation of the Korean penninsula where anti-communism was too frequently used to suppress the political oppositions.

Source: Written by Kang, Youngouck(Asian Development Bank) in 2014 for K-Developedia