[EDITORIALS]Local development a mustIs there a way to help improve the poor living conditions in areas outside Seoul? The JoongAng Ilbo's in-depth reports, "The Record of 11 Years of Local Autonomy," clearly show that the gap between Seoul, where social, economic, cultural and educational activities are concentrated, and the provinces, where such resources are fast declining, has gone beyond limits, endangering Korea's international competitiveness.
In a survey, 8 out of 10 people said that living in the provinces is a disadvantage. And 3 out of 10 polled said they have considered moving to Seoul. The reasons were better educational opportunities, economic conditions, daily conveniences, cultural benefits and other factors on which the quality of life depends. Consequently, the Seoul area has attracted more than 47 percent of the population, becoming a mammoth community with a large number of elderly people.
This hypergrowth is the result of the implementation of a pseudo-local autonomy system -- that is, local governments do not have administrative and financial independence from the central government. The Kim Dae-jung administration pledged to transfer 12,000 central government jobs to local governments. But only 1 percent or 111 of them were handed over to the provinces. The financial independence of local governments has deteriorated yearly, with these entities now depending on the central authorities for about half of their budget resources. Many local governments cannot afford to pay personnel expenses with their tax revenues. With such poor finances, how can they even think of improving the quality of life of their citizens? Daegu, Busan, Daejeon and Gwangju, the major cities that should lead the local development, are in a quagmire.
Confrontation between Seoul and the provinces puts policies for provincial development adrift. Revitalizing conditions of the provinces would help both Seoul and the outlying provinces. We should promote local development in a wise but vigorous manner. Treating the symptoms will not solve fundamental problems. Revitalizing local areas should not be further delayed.