Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reactions to proposed "super ministry" for future, creativity and science

As might be expected, there is a public debate taking place in Korea these days over the government reorganization proposals announced earlier this week by the incoming administration of President-elect Park Geun-hye.  Equally unsurprising is that one big topic in the debate centers on the proper approach to ICT policy in this era of the networked information economy.

  • Members of the Korea Communications Commission, one in particular, are not happy at what amounts to a demotion of that commission's responsibilities.  As reported by The Korea Times, it will continue to have ICT-sector regulatory responsibilities, but policymaking and strategies for industry growth in the sector will become part of the new "super ministry," yet to receive its official English name, that will be responsible for future creation of science, including ICT.
  • Many people at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) are no doubt unhappy because the proposed new super ministry would take over several functions currently assigned to the MKE, which will revert to its pre-Lee Myung Bak administration role as Ministry of Industry Trade and Resources (Energy).
  • As noted in the previous post (below), people who argued for restoration of the Ministry of Information and Communication are unhappy because  they perceive ICT-policy being handled at the Vice-minister level under the new super ministry.
The national assembly will need to approve the proposed governmental changes, so the current debates and discussions may have some impact on the final shape of the new government.  However, it is highly likely that the new "super ministry" will emerge, as it was one of the central campaign pledges made last Fall by candidate Park Geun-hye.  The graphic below, published by The Hankyoreh,  may help a bit to understand the forthcoming changes (click to see a full-size version).
As to the ultimate shape of the new super ministry and its relationship to ICT policy and regulation, I have several observations.   First, the debates over restructuring need to agree on a common concept or understanding of digital convergence.   In fact, convergence is a much broader, multi-faceted and complex subject than just the convergence of telecommunications and information technology, on the one hand, with broadcasting, on the other.  Some of the public statements being made these days seem to reflect limited conceptions of convergence.  However, the reason for including ICT policy in the purview of the new super ministry is that these new digital computing and communications technologies are what economists call "general purpose technologies" that pervade all industries and segments of the economy.
Second, the inclusion of (창조, the Korean word for "create" or "make") in the new ministry's title is significant in that one of the major challenges for future ICT policy, broadly conceived, is to help Korea move away from its heavy dependence on hardware manufacturing and export and toward greater involvement with software and content-based services. 
Finally, while some have argued that incorporate of ICT policymaking in the new super ministry under the leadership of a vice minister does not give adequate emphasis or prominence to this area of policy, there is another perspective that needs to be considered.   Reportedly, the reason that ICT policy is being included in the proposed new Ministry is that President elect Park Geun-hye feels strongly that ICT should be integrated with and not separated from the nation's overall science and technology policy.   This is in line with the need for a broad understanding and general agreement about what digital convergence and the information revolution is all about.  

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