Yoon calls for major reforms in town hall meeting
President Yoon Suk-yeol stressed that reforms in three major areas — pensions, labor and education — were a “necessity, not an option” Thursday.
A televised town hall-style meeting to review how his government is doing, the first of its kind, was broadcast live and attended by a panel of 100 people who had a chance to ask questions directly to the president. The meeting started at 2 p.m. and lasted two hours and 30 minutes, far exceeding the 100 minutes initially allotted.
The theme of the meeting attended by key Cabinet members was “promises to the people and their implementation” and was divided into three sections: the economy; a vision for an era of regional growth; and major reforms in pensions, labor and education.
“The three major reforms are essential for the sustainability of our country and for future generations,” Yoon said from the Blue House’s Yeongbingwan state guesthouse in central Seoul. “Reforms must not be avoided even if they are not popular.
“Pension reform is to ensure that future generations do not lose their drive to work, and labor reform is to continue to supply them with high-quality jobs that will enable them to demonstrate their capabilities,” he continued. “Education reform is to enable future generations to have international competitiveness.”
Yoon warned that without reforms to the labor market, “labor issues lead to political strife and can cause political issues, which in turn destroy politics and the economy.”
He noted that recent strikes by cargo truckers were harmful to the people and businesses.
“If the labor system does not change, we will have no choice but to lose out in competition,” said Yoon.
Regarding labor reforms, his administration is pushing for flexibility according to labor demand; a fair compensation system for workers; safety in the workplace; and stability of labor-management relations.
“We have to start now so that a completed version of the reformed national pension system that can last for the next several decades can come out at end of this administration or the beginning of the next one,” said Yoon. He called for “in-depth research and public discussions” to achieve such reforms.
He said the issue of national pension reform needs bipartisan cooperation and said he hopes the reform process “will be a progress of integration, not of division and conflict.”
Yoon also stressed that education is at the core of his government’s vision to achieving “balanced regional development.”
Good educational facilities, including middle and high schools and regional universities, “will attract good companies, and many talented people may choose to stay [in rural areas],” he said. “I think it’s possible because there are many benefits and comparative advantages to staying where we’ve lived all along.”
The Yoon administration, which came into power last May, has committed itself to six national policy goals, 23 pledges and 120 national policy tasks.
The presidential office said the administration’s blueprint for the next five years include building an upright and dignified country; an economy with autonomy and creativity; a society that is kind to the weak; a regional boom where opportunities are equal no matter where you live; and a globally pivotal country that impacts the international community.
During the town hall meeting, Yoon answered an array of questions on issues such as concerns over the national health insurance system, falling real estate prices, taxes on owners of multiple homes and women’s rights.
He also called for a crackdown on drug crimes.
“From a certain point in time, the prosecution has let go of this work and only the police have been responsible for this [crackdown on drugs], so the efficiency had dropped in information-sharing, investigation and prosecution,” said Yoon.
In response to a question about violence against women, Yoon replied that “a society in which women are insecure is a country in which the entire society is insecure.”
He called for institutional and legal measures to deal with sex crimes, stalking and violent crimes against women and for building of victim support centers.
Officials including Prime Minister Han Duck-soo Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho, Woo Dong-gi, chairman of the Presidential Committee for Balanced National Development, and Cho Dong-chul, president of the Korea Development Institute (KDI), spoke at the meeting.
This is the second live broadcast of a meeting presided over by Yoon since his emergency economic and public livelihood meeting was televised on Oct. 27.
Last month, Yoon canceled his so-called “doorstepping” sessions answering questions from reporters after a verbal altercation between an MBC reporter and a presidential aide.
The presidential office has sought for alternative ways of communicating with the public.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]