South Korea Table of Contents
The top executive body assisting the president in 1990 was the State Council, or cabinet, the members of which in 1990 included the president, the prime minister, and from fifteen to thirty heads of various ministries and their equivalents. More often a technocrat than a politician, the prime minister is appointed by the president with the consent of the National Assembly. Other cabinet members, also presidential appointees, are supposed to be recommended by the prime minister but actually are chosen by the president. As under the 1980 constitution, no member of the military may hold a cabinet post unless he is retired from active service.
The State Council is responsible for the formulation and implementation of basic plans and policies concerning a wide range of government functions. The results of deliberation by the council are conveyed to the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister, the two principal units responsible for coordination and supervision relating to various government agencies. Given the importance of economic performance to the stability and security of the nation, the Economic Planning Board plays a significant role in the administrative and economic process. The minister of the board by law doubles as deputy prime minister; his senior assistants, many of them holding advanced degrees from foreign universities, have been among the ablest public servants in the country.
As South Korean observers have noted, the president's power to appoint persons to senior and deputy ministerial positions not only has administrative significance but also is an important political tool for balancing factional interests within the president's party and for rewarding loyalty. The South Korean media closely scrutinize high-level appointments for clues to politics within the ruling party. The announcement in early 1990 of plans to merge the ruling party and two of the three major opposition parties and to institute a cabinet-responsibility form of government produced even more intensive interest in cabinet appointments.
In 1989 a presidentially appointed Administration Reform Commission concluded a fourteen-month study concerning the structure of the government. In reporting its findings to the president, the panel proposed a number of changes, including the merger or abolition of several State Council ministries and other government agencies. Faced with strenuous lobbying by officials of the agencies concerned, the ruling party and government administration tabled most of the recommendations. Several proposals were implemented. The new Ministry of Culture, established in late 1989 from the former Ministry of Culture and Information, was placed under the initial direction of Yi O-yong, a prominent essayist and literary critic. The new ministry continued the cultural and artistic functions of its predecessor and also took over responsibilities concerning national and public libraries and national language policy from the Ministry of Education. The establishment of the Ministry of Environment, upgraded from the former Office of Environment within the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, acknowledged that national development over the preceding three decades had often neglected environmental concerns. Its establishment redeemed a pledge made in both the 1980 and 1987 constitutions that the people of South Korea "shall have the right to a healthy and pleasant environment," and that the government would take measures for environmental protection.
Data as of June 1990