INSIGHT: Lessons from South Korea [Citizen, The (Tanzania)]
(Citizen, The (Tanzania) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Dar es Salaam. A few years ago, the government was up in arms with edible oil importers on one hand and local manufacturers of the same on the other. Among others, the bone of contention was the taxes and levies imposed on the imported oil.
The importers wanted the government to exempt them from paying any taxes on grounds that they were importing semi refined oil which they refine at home. But, the local manufacturers cried foul, noting that the importers were bringing in refined products and what they were doing was only packing it before retailing.
Local manufacturers argued that this puts them at a disadvantage as importers have been importing the same products at zero tariff.
They wanted the government to impose duty on imported edible oil, be it refined or semi refined, so as to safeguard the local industries.
This dispute persisted for several years and although it now seems to have been resolved, it is just a matter of time before it crops up again.
Such issues give the government a very hard time because it depends on taxes and import duty for revenue to finance social services. On the other hand, however, the government is also obliged to ensure that it creates a conducive environment for local importers by reducing or exempting the taxes to enable them operate competitively.
My recent trip to South Korea enlightened me on a number of things, including how the government could end such disputes. Solutions to such a problem could be found in eating habits. Yes, eating habits.
In this, people have a lot to do in order to ensure that the government does not find itself courting such controversies. If Tanzanians decide to copy the eating habits of Koreans, this country will not need to import any edible oil.
The improved eating habits will not only help in reducing edible oil consumption, but will also help in improving the health of the people – the workforce.
One of the things I witnessed is that the Koreans do not use much oil in their cooking. From the family level this has reduced edible oil consumption.
According to South Korea Vice-Minister for Science, ICT and Future Planning, Yoon Jong-lok, South Korea imports 75 per cent of its food but, only a small fraction of is edible oil because its people don't use much oil in their cooking.
"We don't have suitable land for producing enough food to feed 50 million people, so we import 75 per cent of our food and 100 per cent of energy," he told a group of about 100 journalists from around the world who attended the World Journalists Conference (WJC) organised by Korea Press Foundation.
The lecture that Mr Jong-lok gave us taught me and others another lesson that countries, especially those in the developing bracket, have been disregarding ICT at their own peril. The Vice-Minister attributed ICT to strides which the once impoverished country has made in the last 50 years.
"In 1950, we were very poor but today we have recorded tremendous achievements thanks to ICT and a combination of other factors, including innovation," he said.
And this is evident when one walks through the streets of Seoul and other major cities. To a great extent, the city authorities have been able to harness ICT and innovation to effectively run their affairs. Public transportation, water and power supply as well as infrastructure are very sophisticated, thanks to the use of ICT.
While Korea took deliberate efforts to use ICT to improve its activities, including governance, we, on the other hand, have been mocking such initiatives. It is years since we adopted e-governance initiative but to-date, all top ministry officials move to Dodoma during the Budget session!
With the use of ICT, it would have been easy and effective for these ministry officials to follow Bunge proceedings while doing their other work in offices in Dar es Salaam. But, e-governance notwithstanding, ministry work stops for the entire two months when the officials are in Dodoma for the Budget session.
And South Korea does not have to depend on foreign companies to do this. For years the country has been able to harness its wealth and form companies which have grown to be stronger globally. It is no wonder then that though South Korea borders Japan, you rarely see a Japanese car on the streets, as is the case with us.
Everything from cars, mobile phones to other gadgets, are manufactured by Korean companies. The companies produce not for local markets only. Samsung, Hyundai and Kia are some of Korean brands which have been captivating the world.
The trip also availed me an opportunity to visit Singyeoungju City, which is cherished as the national museum. It is a city which is leading in South Korea in preservation. One of its villages, Yangdong, which was established 500 years ago, has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2010.
Visits to these two sites makes one see how we have been undermining our culture at our own peril. Historical records and information found in the city and the village, help one to understand the entire history of the country. The way the Yangdong village has been preserved attracts millions of tourists from around the world annually. This keeps the economy of the village and the city going.
But, generally, South Korea has established itself as a country which values its culture. Even when you are in Seoul, which in other parts of other world would have been westernised, one feels the deep cultural sense which the country treasures.
Earlier, I narrated how South Korean companies have harnessed innovation and technology to become global renowned companies. The government did not leave these companies to fight by themselves. It helped to create conducive environments for them to survive.
The companies started as local, but they managed to grow to become global competitors.
What I learnt here is that our "use made in Tanzania" campaign is being undermined. As stated earlier, Koreans do not use imported cars and mobile phone handsets.
And the government has built infrastructure which enables car manufacturers to flourish. While the companies create jobs for the people, they increase purchasing power and improve the economy further.
While many Tanzanians think that there is no better bus today than Chinese buses such as Yutong, people have to see and use Hyundai and Kia buses to note that Yutong is not luxurious as people think.
There are many other lessons from South Korea but the most important thing that I have learnt is work discipline among its people, at all levels. Each and every Korean values what he or she is doing. Other people also value what their colleagues are doing. Leaders value what the wananchi are doing and common people also value what their leaders are doing. Whenever anything goes wrong, leaders are not pressured to own up to the mistakes and become accountable. That is why when a private ferry sank several weeks ago, killing hundreds of innocent people, it did not take newspaper columns or demonstrations to make some government officials step down as a way of showing their accountability.
But Koreans do love their country. I witnessed this when their national team played Russia during the group stages of the World Cup. When word spread that South Korea had scored a goal, almost everyone switched on a TV on his or her mobile phone to watch it. At Seoul train station where I was at that moment, people gathered around giant TV screens to watch their boys in action.
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