[EDITORIALS]Unclogging SeoulAt the first of a series of regional forums yesterday, this one held in Daegu under the theme of "Decentralization and Balanced National Development," President-elect Roh Moo-hyun reiterated his commitment to the decentralization of the government. His transition team has said that is one of its top 10 priorities and is working on methods of implementing the idea.
Mr. Roh and his transition team intend to devolve the manpower, money and authority that are now centralized in the capital city to local authorities. The Seoul metropolitan area accounts for only 12 percent of Korea's land area but is home to 47 percent of its population. Seoul is also home to 70 percent of the nation's financial transactions and tax revenue. Mr. Roh's initiative is an attempt to break out of the cycle of money and population and rescue the provinces, which are in need of almost everything.
Of the 232 municipal and district governments, 146 cannot collect enough tax revenues to pay their staffs. Heads of the suffering provincial cities and districts met in Daegu on Jan. 17 to press their case for more local autonomy.
To promote decentralization, Mr. Roh said, local financial authority must be increased and more support should be given to colleges in areas other than Seoul. The transition team is drawing up a plan for balanced development of the country that would transfer some of the central government's taxation authority to local governments.
But no matter how inviting an initiative sounds, it must be good in practice as well as on paper. Previous administrations have announced new policies aimed at decentralization; they were almost all failures, hampered by politicians and central government bureaucrats worried about turf. Legislation will be required for Mr. Roh's initiatives, so the same problems will not arise again.
Decentralization is not just a priority of a single administration. It is a demand of the era. Politicians and government ministers must change their ways of thinking.