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2 Gyeonggi cities become first to volunteer to merge

But city mayors clash over seeking residents’ consensus  PLAY AUDIO

Sept 08,2009
Two cities in Gyeonggi have become the first to volunteer to merge following the Lee Myung-bak administration’s promise to provide incentives to cities and counties volunteering to join together.

The two cities are Namyangju and Guri.

Lee Seok-woo, the mayor of Namyangju, yesterday submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security after meeting with Kim Moon-soo, the Gyeonggi governor, earlier in the day to explain the plan.

The city collected the signatures of residents and regional groups, including people from the local chamber of commerce, last week in support of the move, according to the Namyangju city government.

In the proposal, Lee said Namyang-ju and Guri share historic and cultural roots and the residents’ economic and living areas overlap.

“Without cohabiting, it is hard for both cities to grow further,” he noted. “If the two cities can succeed in a voluntary merger, the first in the nation, I believe we will earn more incentives from the central government.”

Guri city officials, however, were said to be furious that Namyangju was leading the effort.

Lee had proposed the merger to Guri, but no consensus had been made on the issue to create a consolidated city with a population of 710,000.

“I object to the populist approach to the merger,” said Park Young-sun, the Guri mayor. “I have reviewed the incentives that the central government had proposed, and none of them are new. It is hard to know if the incentives will be worth it.”

Park said the merger was pushed forward hastily because residents had not reached a consensus. He also objected to the idea that Namyangju will absorb Guri.

“I am not opposing the merger because the mayoral election is scheduled for next year,” Park said. “I am opposing it because it is time to focus on stabilizing the development of the city and local economy.”

Lee Dal-gon, the minister for public administration, announced on Aug. 26 that the central government will provide incentives to cities and counties that merge voluntarily before next July.

As of now, about 50 cities and counties are mulling possible mergers. The central government’s presentation on the incentives last week attracted 260 public servants from 192 regional governments.

According to the latest survey by the JoongAng Ilbo, 34 out of 40 heads of local governments polled are possible candidates for mergers. Of the 40, 12 are located in Gyeonggi and six in South Jeolla. Five local government heads in Gangwon and South Gyeongsang said discussions on possible mergers were going on in their areas. Four local government heads in North Gyeongsang said the same.

Of the 34 local government heads who supported mergers, 25 said they wanted to improve the development possibilities and the competitiveness of their cities and counties. In addition, 19 of the 40 mayors and county heads said they will run for re-election after a merger. Eight said they wouldn’t. The other 13 said they were undecided or gave no response.

According to the survey, 102 out of the 142 mayors and county heads said no discussions were currently taking place in their cities and counties, but 69 of the 102 said they are interested.

The JoongAng Ilbo surveyed 153 mayors and county heads around the nation on Friday through e-mail and fax; 142 replied.

The Public Administration Ministry said it will now conduct opinion polls with residents in Namyangju and Guri. If more than 50 percent of the residents of both cities agree, the ministry will hear the opinions of both cities’ legislative councils and then conduct a referendum.

The ministry plans to submit a bill to legalize the establishment of a new autonomous government to the National Assembly with an aim to approve it during the second half of next year.

Local elections next June will be an opportunity to elect new heads.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]



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