[Viewpoint] Sejong City is adrift in doubt

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[Viewpoint] Sejong City is adrift in doubt

It’s weird. It has been decided that people will move to a new town and construction is under way. But those who are supposed to live there have no plans to move.

What’s even stranger is that people other than those tapped to relocate are fighting over the size of their land and who will own their houses. This is the story of Sejong City, an entity being developed to become a multifunctional administrative city. In Korean, this type of the city is called “Haengbok City,” which means “a city of happiness.” But people concerned about the city are not happy at all and it appears they will become less so as time goes on.

According to the special law on a such an administrative city, 12 government departments, four agencies and two offices must move to Sejong City by 2012. Over time, that has morphed into nine departments, two agencies and two offices. With the exception of the Blue House and the Board of Audit and Inspection, many administrative bodies are slated to move. The problem is that they don’t think it will happen.

Under the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the plan to build Sejong City was formulated through political collaboration. Thus, civil workers seem to think that the plan is unlikely to be implemented as a new administration has taken over. The government keeps postponing the announcement of agencies and government bodies that are to pack up and move. Since changes were made under the special law, the government was supposed to make the announcement. It hasn’t. Worse, it doesn’t say when it will.

In the meantime, construction of Sejong City, which is half the size of Seoul, continues, costing about as much as the project to restore four major rivers.

This is the bottom line: A large-scale new city is being built. No one knows for sure who will move there because no one want to.

Even if all government bodies move to Sejong City, the place is very likely to become a ghost city. The goal was to have 500,000 residents living there. But today, only 12,000 civil workers can move to Sejong City. No one knows where the rest will come from.

But this hasn’t stopped land from being excavated or roads from being paved.

Political communities, however, are busy calculating possible gains and losses over Sejong City even before it’s finished.

After a meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and Lee Hoi-chang, the chairman of the Liberty Forward party, the Grand National Party and the LFP decided to give the city the legal status as a metropolitan autonomous city. This was a red flag for the Democratic Party, once a proponent of creating the autonomous city. The Democrats are clearly not pleased that the GNP and the LFP have formed a conservative front.

The law on Sejong City is still adrift as different political parties promote different interests. Politicians are so busy trying to use Sejong City for political purposes that they are uninterested in the actual fate of the city.

The LFP only talks about public opinion in the Chungcheong provinces and maintains that the project must be implemented as planned.

The GNP and the DP are being dragged along because they are afraid to lose votes there if they say or do anything else.

Nothing is decided because politicians are only interested in what they can derive politically from the city.

Sejong City is a difficult issue, too hard to swallow yet too soft to spit out. It will be a problem if government departments move there and it will be a problem if they don’t.

Sentiments of residents from different areas and their self interests are so densely intertwined that it is difficult to even talk about the situation.

However, if nobody makes decisions or takes responsibility soon, a disastrous consequence will be inevitable. Either a ghost city that has cost a huge amount of money will be created, or government bodies will be split into two, causing tremendous ineffectiveness and chaos.

Only two people can resolve the issue - President Lee and LFP Chairman Lee. When serving as the mayor of Seoul, President Lee consistently opposed the transfer of governmental functions to an administrative city. When running for the presidency in the 16th presidential election, Chairman Lee opposed the project until the end, as well.

Only President Lee can make the decision to end the attempt to split government bodies. He’s also the only one who can make Sejong City become a self-sufficient urban area. Chairman Lee is the only one who can shatter illusions about the city and persuade people about what will truly benefit the residents of the province. Without such a resolution, Sejong City will be left as a gigantic symbol of failure.

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

by Kim Jong-soo
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