[FORUM]Capital plan: Don’t do a Brazil

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[FORUM]Capital plan: Don’t do a Brazil

The debate over whether the administrative capital should be moved reminds me of two stories.
The first one is about Brazil.
Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira, who was elected president of Brazil in 1956, made a promise that a new city would be built inland within four years and become the new capital. This city was planned with streets designed to form the shape of an airplane. It was so original that Unesco named it a world cultural heritage site.
Still, one economic scholar I met in Brazil sometime ago was cynical about the city. He asked me if I knew why Brazil, which has as much land and resources as the United States, was having trouble developing economically. When I asked why, he took out a map of the metropolitan area. He said with a sigh, “A plane needs a runway to take off, but this city has a lake right in front of the plane, so how could it take off?” Looking at the map I saw that there really was an artificial lake right in front of the plane.
Every country that starts large-scale national construction projects ends up dealing with inflation and an economic slump because of increasing debt and lax financial management. In Brazil’s case, the project was rapidly promoted because the government had to keep its promise to the people and the aftereffects were serious. We should keep this in mind as an example of what could happen.
The second story is about Japan’s parliament. After World War II, Japanese could make calls through “the credit pay phone” system. It was a time when coins were scarce, so a person would pick up the phone, tell the operator the number they wished to dial, and say, “I have put in the paper money.” Then the operator, who assu-med that the fee was paid, would connect the call. Almost 100 percent of the money was collected at first, but then fewer and fewer people paid. The system died after a few years.
It is said, that of all public phones in Tokyo, the one most abused was the one in the Japanese Diet. Of course, legislators were not the only ones who used the phones, but the story probably still lives on today to remind people that politicians will do anything for their own benefit.
In the attitude and behavior of the National Assembly candidates when the legislative elections were coming up, similar actions were on view. The Special Law for the Construction of a New Admini-strative Capital is most likely an act that was sped up to attract votes from the Chungcheong provinces and not the result of a national agreement. The debate over the capital transfer is wasting national energy. Instead the Assembly should come up with a compromise that corresponds to public opinion and reduces the cost of transfer.
A transfer that moves all three branches of government ― the legislature, administration and judiciary ― is an enormous undertaking. It is also impossible to predict what will become of Seoul and where the capital will be after reunification. On the other hand, a lot of people are concerned about the dense population of the Seoul metropolitan area and are looking forward to a dispersion of some sort.
Moving different functions of the central government to several locations instead of moving the capital as a whole could be more effective. For example, if the functions of the capital were parceled out to Cheju, Chungcheong provinces and Seoul, and only those government offices shifted to the provinces, a good deal of money could be saved. In addition, the transfer could be made in a shorter period of time. Also, choosing such a flexible method would make the problem of selecting a capital after reunification less of a problem.
Seoul, Pyeongyang and one or two other locations could divide the functions of the capital among them.

* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Ro Sung-tae
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