[Viewpoint]‘Bombard’ the councilsOn August 5, 1966, Mao Zedong published “Bombard the Headquarters,” the famous big-character poster that triggered the Cultural Revolution in China. For 10 years after its publication, China went through unprecedented chaos involving attacks on intellectuals, terror and retaliation by “ultra leftists” against political enemies.
As I became furious last week over the shameless action of local councils to greatly increase their salaries, I was reminded of the title of Mao’s paper. What came to my mind was, “Bombard the Local Councils.”
The Cultural Revolution turned Chinese society upside down and stifled development for several decades, but if all Koreans bombarded their local councils, I believe regional autonomy here would make a leap forward by several decades.
Caught by an angry public, some councils belatedly decided to reduce the raises. The Muju Council in the south had planned to double its salary next year to 42 million won but it reversed the action. Others press ahead. The Gangnam Council is raising salaries to 60.96 million won next year. Samcheok in Gangwon and Okcheon in North Chuncheong finalized raises of 81.3 percent and 65 percent, respectively. Municipal and provincial educational council members joined the binge. The North Gyeongsang provincial educational council raised next year’s stipend by 24.5 percent to 50.95 million won for each member. The members of the North Chungcheong educational council will receive 40.20 million won, up from this year’s 32.40 million won. It is natural that we feel frustrated.
We can find many successful cases in Japan of people fighting their councils. Recently, the story of Iizuka in Fukuoka Prefecture made news. A coal-mining center, the town of Iizuka used to get plenty of assistance from the central government, such as a fund to boost coal production. However, the fund was stopped, creating a sense of crisis among the locals.
In March, 2006, the city of Iizuka decided to merge with four adjoining municipalities, aiming for greater synergy. The regional assemblies of the five cities merged as well, and that was the beginning of the problem. The local assemblymen passed a special regulation to allow all 87 of them to remain in office. The small city, with a population of just 140,000, now had a huge local assembly with 87 members. The citizens, who already had enough worries over the budget deficit, grew furious.
The first signal for the bombardment was started by one elderly woman, 71-year-old homemaker Mineyo Shibata. Shibata got so angry when she saw the news of the greedy assemblymen on television, she began talking to her neighbors. Unlike Korea, Japan has a system that allows locals to dissolve a regional assembly. Shibata created a civic group called the “Group to Demand the Dissolution of the Iizuka Municipal Assembly.” At first, the group called on the head of the assembly to voluntarily disband the body, but he refused. Then, the group began collecting signatures. The members of Iizuka’s assembly received 5.52 million yen each, about 44.20 million won, and Shibata wanted to reduce the number of assemblymen to help the town’s struggling finances. Signatures from at least one third of the voters were needed to hold a vote on dissolving the assembly, and 45,000 people, far more than the number needed, joined the cause. Finally on Feb. 4, 2007, the issue was taken to a ballot, and 45,768 voters, 92.34 percent, supported the dissolution, while only 6.95 percent, or 3445 votes, opposed it. Shibata sent 100 red tulips to the volunteers working at the ballot-counting office and celebrated the victory. As the speaker of the assembly stepped down, he confessed that he had underestimated the people. The city of Iizuka drastically reduced the number of assembly members to 34 and held an election in March.
While we do not have a way to dissolve the local councils, the newly enacted Regional Autonomy Act allows for recall, suits and requests for audit of local governments.
According to a source from the Local Participation Team at the Ministry of Government Administ-ration and Home Affairs, there have been eight recall attempts. In five locations, the recalls failed because they did not gather enough signatures. In Jeonju City and Hamyang in South Gyeongnam , the signature drives are temporarily suspended because the law prohibits signature collection during a presidential election campaign. Hanam City in Gyeonggi is the only region where the recall procedure is nearing the end.
Whether it is a local council or a regional autonomous body, the voters need to step up and reproach it if it is badly run or abuses its power. The many local government bodies and assemblies are often led by the same party, especially members of the Grand National Party. Even if we don’t start “bombarding” them now, we should not take our eyes off the radar to prevent our precious tax money from being wasted.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun