중앙데일리

Court upholds modified plan to rid Seoul of bureaucrats

Nov 24,2005
The Constitutional Court yesterday dismissed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of new legislation to build a government administrative hub in South Chungcheong province.
The ruling was in effect a green light for the Roh Moo-hyun administration to honor its election pledge to move Korea’s administrative capital out of Seoul. But no one was using the word “capital.”
In September 2002, Mr. Roh promised to begin moving the capital, but the first attempt by his Uri Party to honor that pledge was blocked by the same court in October 2004. In a controversial decision, the Constitutional Court said that although the Constitution made no explicit reference to the location of the capital, Seoul had to have that honor because of its historical primacy.
After being thwarted in those plans, the administration and the Uri Party devised a new one: They proposed to relocate the bulk of the government’s administrative apparatus, mainly to an area near Gongju and Yeongi in South Chungcheong province. Some agencies, however, would be relocated elsewhere in the name of “balanced regional development.”
But because the Blue House, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly would still be located in Seoul under the bill, supporters argued, there was no threat to the city’s designation as the capital of the republic.
Although initially opposed to the idea of any move, the opposition Grand National Party backed the second bill for tactical political reasons and the legislation was approved last March. Horrified, 222 persons, mainly from Seoul and including several Seoul City Council members, appealed to the court, which is the judiciary’s interpreter of the Korean Constitution, a second time.
Seven of the nine justices rejected the complaint; the other two said the modified plan, like the original one, was unconstitutional.
“The legislation does not violate the inherited concept in Korea’s constitution that Seoul is the capital city,” the court said. “The legislation also brings about no change to the nation’s presidential governance system under the constitution. The court, therefore, does not accept the complaints that the legislation violated the people’s basic rights.”
Twelve ministries would move to Gongju-Yeongi; nearly 180 other government bodies, para-statal companies and public utilities would be relocated elsewhere.
The Blue House and the ministries of foreign affairs, unification, justice, defense, home affairs and gender equality would remain in Seoul, along with the legislature and Supreme Court. But the prime minister would maintain offices in the new administrative hub.
While the president will stay in Seoul, the prime minister will work in the new administrative hub.
Under the new legislation, the government is allowed to spend no more than 8.5 trillion won ($8.2 billion) for new construction and redevelopment. The earlier legislation on the relocation ordered all government bodies to the South Chungcheong region at an estimated cost of 45.6 trillion won.
“While some administrative bodies are moving to the new hub, the recent development of information communication technologies allow video conferences and electronic administration,” the court said. “By using such technologies, the inconveniences of being distant from Seoul can be overcome and the president’s decision-making will not be hindered. Seoul will still be the political and administrative center, and its functions as a capital city will not be impaired.”
Lee Choon-hee, deputy head of the government’s task force for administrative hub construction, announced soon after the decision a rough timetable for the development plan. He said the government has been conducting surveys since June and a master plan for the move would be approved by next July. Groundbreaking for the construction work would come in 2007 and ministries would start moving into their new quarters in 2012, Mr. Lee said. The administration estimates that the new city would have a population of 300,000 by 2020 and 500,000 by 2030.
Seoul’s mayor, Lee Myung-bak, was not a happy man.
“With the Constitutional Court’s decision today, the constitutionality debate on the legislation to build an administrative hub has ended. The special law is ruled not in violation of the constitution, but dismembering the nation’s capital city is not a desirable policy,” he said in a statement read by his spokesman. “My belief remains unchanged that dismembering the capital city, just like capital relocation, is undesirable for the balanced development of the nation and inappropriate for the nation’s future.”
The Seoul City Council also criticized the Constitutional Court harshly for making an inconsistent ruling. “The legislation contains similar clauses to the new administrative capital legislation that was ruled unconstitutional last year,” the council said in its own statement. “The Constitutional Court reversed its decision only a year later, making us wonder why the court exists.”
The Blue House, of course, was happy. Kim Man-soo, the spokesman there, hailed the end of the “wasteful debate” over the move, saying it was time to “focus the nation’s energy to build a society with balanced development.”
The nation’s political parties also welcomed the ruling. The governing Uri Party issued a statement praising the court’s decision as “democratic,” and “productive.” The Grand National Party’s leader, Park Geun-hye, was more restrained, saying respected the court’s decision, according to the party’s spokesman Lee Ke-jin.
The far-left Democratic Labor Party urged the government and politicians to work to end politics based on regional factiona;ism and develop the country in a balanced way. But careful not to appear too much in tune with other politicians here, the party said it did not believe the plan would work. It also urged the administration to prevent “reckless development” here.


by Ser Myo-ja


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