[Viewpoint]National development, local politicsOne issue that politicians avoid mentioning during an election season, as much as possible is local projects. They make efforts to avoid projects with lots of problems, especially those in which local residents may have a great deal of interest in them. The politicians probably do so because any insensitive remarks might offend local voters.
President-elect Lee Myung-bak is in the same situation. As he stakes the survival of his administration on winning the majority of legislative seats in the general elections scheduled barely a month after his administration takes over, he is very careful in what he says, lest local voters turn their backs on him.
Although he has expressed his opinion clearly in many areas, he simply beats around the bush ― at best ― when it comes to local issues.
A typical example is how he deals with the issue of the administrative capital city and innovation cities. These are the projects that Roh Moo-hyun has been speaking about as his term nears its end. Roh said, “I’d like to drive in piles and large pegs” to put an end to the controversy.
The presidential transition committee in charge of reviewing regional policies parrots the line that the projects will be carried out as scheduled, whenever there is talk of the administrative capital city and innovation cities. The reason is that the compensation for the land is almost se; a reversal of plans might bring about confusion.
But their intentions are different. If Roh’s regional policy aims to redistribute the functions of the metropolitan area to the provinces, Lee’s regional policy is to make the metropolitan and local areas grow together. Lee has his so-called 5 plus 2 greater regional development strategy, which divides the country into five greater economic zones and two special economic zones. This strategy is inconsistent with the transition team’s statement that plans for the administrative city and innovation cities will be implemented as scheduled.
Obviously, the plan for the administrative capital city, which essentially divides the administration between two capitals, will greatly decrease the government’s efficiency. President Roh himself said, “How inefficient would it be for government officials to come and go between Seoul, where the National Assembly is located, and the administrative city?”
This type of a split administrative city is far removed from the “pragmatic” approach of the Lee administration.
The same can be said of the innovation cities, created by compulsorily dispersing 177 public agencies throughout the country. Roh’s public agency transfer policy spreads agencies to the provinces regardless of the nature of their responsibilities. Lee’s greater regional development strategy, which will pursue development according to local characteristics, cannot work with Roh’s plan.
It does not make any sense for the new administration to pursue a greater regional development strategy and at the same time maintain plans for an administrative city and innovation cities.
This predicament was partially caused by the Roh administration, which drove in “large pegs” to end the controversy. The effect of Roh’s determination to establish facts on the ground until the end of his term, despite numerous controversies and opposition, has had a powerful influence.
Mindful of voters in the Chungcheong provinces, the area of greatest interest in the upcoming general elections, the Lee administration could not say a word about the administrative city. The administration is trapped by Roh’s pledge to transfer the capital city.
The new administration would not dare say it will reverse or change the plans on the innovation cities now underway in 10 places across the nation, because Roh reconfirmed his plans while touring the local areas at the end of last year.
Even the slight probability of the cancellation of the innovation cities would put the seat of a National Assembly representative at risk in each of those areas.
In this situation, the Lee administration would be unlikely to be easily freed from Roh’s curse, as far as regional policy is concerned.
Roh will not be able to continue to hammer in his large pegs. But if they are not pulled out in the initial days of the new administration, Lee’s regional development strategy will come to nothing without even having had a chance to start. As Roh’s and Lee’s policies meld together, conflicts can increase and national development can be bungled by thoughtless development. If it is burdensome to discuss the issue before the general elections, one approach would be to put it on the back burner for a while and put it to public discussion after the elections are over.
But the urgent task is to persuade local residents. It is necessary to suggest alternatives convincing to the residents, such as science and business cities and local specialty projects of practical help for regional development instead of the administrative city or innovation cities.
It won’t be impossible if Lee persuades the people with the honesty and enthusiasm he used in the Cheonggye Stream restoration. He should pull out not only the poles of restrictive regulations, but also the “large pegs” of a dated policy.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jong-soo