[OUTLOOK]Move is blocked: Now what?

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[OUTLOOK]Move is blocked: Now what?

To our great relief, the Constitutional Court’s decision put an end to the pursuit of the capital move, for now at least. But nobody is in a position to be happy. Our foremost concern is how to handle the already spilled milk. The government’s stormy action to push through the project has increased the side effects of the rejection. Serious tasks are everywhere, to the extent that now is just the beginning of the problems.
One of the reasons for the opposition to the capital transfer was that it was doomed to fail. Controversy over its justification aside, people judged, many side effects were bound to follow in carrying out the project stubbornly. I am one of those who think that even if the Constitutional Court had ruled the capital transfer constitutional and the administration pursued the move strongly, it was doomed to be dropped along the way and the repercussions increased tremendously.
Aside from the court’s ruling that the plan was unconstitutional, the administration has certainly taken a self-righteous and one-sided attitude so far. It viewed supporters of the capital move as those who hope for balanced national development; opponents were denounced as upstarts in the Gangnam area of southern Seoul who were defending their vested interests, so we could not express our opinions freely. I realized there could be this kind of gagging of those on the opposite side. Because the president himself took the lead in this strategy, his subordinates are not to be held responsible. Mr. Roh did not hesitate to say that there was some intention of shaking the president hidden behind the opposition to the capital move, which amounts to a threat that he would consider such opposition a kind of conspiracy to rebellion.
Setting aside what has gone by, the future holds more problems. The government’s first step to minimize the repercussions of the capital move project must be to change its rigid attitude. It would be disastrous if the government continued to push the old plan as a face-saving measure. The most risky scenario is highly likely to originate from appeasing the residents in the Chungcheong provinces. If the governing and opposition parties make political compromises or resort to tricks over the transfer of central government agencies and public institutions, it will have picked the worst choice.
Let’s take the opportunity of the court’s decision to start all over. Whether it is an administrative city, administrative town, science city or education city, sufficient research and discussion should come first. The government should draw up a balanced national development plan from the beginning, based on the premise of a capital move. If it just tries to evade a technical violation of the court’s ruling and implements the plan within the original framework, we don’t know what distorted results will come about.
In opposing the capital transfer, the question of many people was, “Is now the time to move the capital?” That question had a lot of persuasive power. Those asking it wondered why the government had to stir up conflict and divert its focus over the issue of the capital move rather than devoting itself to uniting national opinion and building economic power. Needless to say, the government can work to save the economy only when it breaks away from the yoke of the capital transfer. Because of this confusion, the Korea Development Institute has given up trying to issue a quarterly economic forecast this autumn.
In this situation, the question of who will handle this matter is very important. Of course, the president created the problem, but it is not desirable for many reasons for him to try to settle it. Neither should the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, which was in charge of the capital move, solve the problem at its discretion. Nor should a committee that knows nothing of the matter attempt to settle the matter. The deputy prime minister of finance and economy, who has looked on the situation until now with his arms folded, should come forward to take the responsibility for the next steps. Along with other agencies including the Ministry of Planning and Budget and the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, he should come up with realistic and practical alternatives. It will be of no use if plans are pursued separately by the Blue House, by each ministry, or by a committee to save the economy or to develop the country in a balanced way.
The deputy prime minister of finance and economy should take the initiative in settling the matter promptly according to his convictions. If he does not do so, there will be no room for excuses any more, granting the recent circumstances under which he had no choice but to be concerned with a project that had come from a presidential election pledge. Staking his position on the outcome, he should finish reviewing and coordinating the overall national development plan within the framework of the operation of the economy. It may be a sad thing to do, but the president should take only political responsibility and leave the practical judgments entirely to the deputy prime minister.
I hope no politicians, from the governing party or the opposition, will be involved in this matter. They would be of no help and only contribute ruining the job. The prime minister’s recent behavior revealed that he is one of those types of figures too. He should also be moved far away from the task.

* The writer is the chief economic correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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