[Viewpoint] Hit the road, National Assembly

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[Viewpoint] Hit the road, National Assembly

In the past, the Korean National Assembly wandered around like a roaming troupe. In fact, it has moved 12 times since the first one opened at the Capitol Building in 1948.

The National Assembly building was established in its current location in 1975. There was a lot of talk when it was constructed, too. They said it was an urgent matter and completed construction in just two months.

The balance of the building was lost because lawmakers said it had to look sophisticated and ordered a dome that was not in the original plan be placed on top. It was designed so lawmakers would use the front door and the general public would use the back door, 250 meters (820 feet) away from the building.

That is not all. A rule stated that no buildings taller than six stories could be built around the National Assembly building. This is why Yeouido looks so deformed now, with a flat west side where the National Assembly is located and an east side densely filled with skyscrapers.

Local residents cannot be gracious about the National Assembly when it acts like this. Most want it to move away. It takes up one-eighth of the residential area of Yeouido, which is around 2.9 square kilometers (1.1 square miles).

Development cannot spread out properly because the west is bottled up. The people probably deliberately acted like they did not care because there was no way to solve the problem.

However, a chance has dawned upon them - Sejong City.

If the National Assembly moved to Sejong City, it will not only fulfill the long-cherished desires of residents, but resolve all other debates.

First, it will settle the dispute on administrative efficiency. The Blue House won’t say it bluntly, but it knows the core of administration inefficiency is the National Assembly.

They say moving the nine ministries, two offices and two departments would be a problem because cooperation with other government offices would take too long, but this is less of a problem at the National Assembly.

Government offices can make the effort to understand each other’s situations. If the minister cannot make it the vice minister can go instead, and if the vice minister cannot make it a top-ranking official can go instead.

However, it is different for the National Assembly. The minister must go in person. Not so long ago, Defense Minister Kim Tae-young had a hard time as he attempted to postpone his attendance at the National Assembly because it overlapped with his inauguration. It was something that did not have to be a big deal, but, of course, assemblymen who are especially good at “keeping ministers in check” did not let it go.

Inefficiencies like this are also no longer a problem if the National Assembly moves. If difficult problems continue to arise after the National Assembly moves, other departments will follow the National Assembly to Sejong City voluntarily.

On the other hand, if the claim of the opposition party, that “not much time will be wasted once the express railway is complete,” is true, agency officers can simply commute and not move to Sejong City. From the position of the opposition party, it would provide an opportunity to confirm whether or not the Blue House is right.

The move itself would be easy too. The National Assembly simply needs to make a decision. The new location has already been bought with national money, so there’s a justification. Sejong City has become a problem for the entire nation. At first, it was an issue for the political world and the Chungcheong provinces, but as the debate escalates, the entire country has become involved. Not even the National Assembly can handle regional politics.

The move would be a way to solve the problem they created, and would also set an example. Even if former President Roh Moo-hyun started the problem, the National Assembly made the law. When the transfer of the capital was decided in 2003, the Roh administration said the administration should move, but the National Assembly could make its own decision on moving. A government official at the time said, “President Roh hoped for the National Assembly and the courts to move, but gave up in the middle .?.?. because he thought the opposition party would oppose moving the National Assembly even more than moving the administration.”

Instead, he thought the National Assembly would follow if the administration moved, and thus left it to make a decision on its own. However, nobody from the government party, opposition party or pro-Park Geun-hye camp is saying that the National Assembly should move to Sejong City.

The effects would be enormous. The current laws are not enough to make Sejong City an independent city. There are quite a few laws that need to be revised for companies and schools to be built easily and create a profit. If the National Assembly were in Sejong, the revisions would be made rapidly.

Additional income would be created, too. If the site of the National Assembly in Yeouido were sold as commercial land, it could go for around 5 trillion won ($4.3 billion). It would kill two birds with one stone if this money were contributed to the Sejong City project. Ultra-high skyscrapers could be built on the site to attract international financial companies. The financial infrastructure of Korea is crowded in Yeouido. If all goes well, a financial hub similar to Wall Street could be created. We do not have to repeat the mistake of wasting government money to dig up land in a place that is no good.

Of course, there is an obstruction, too. That would be the opposition of the people of the Chungcheong provinces. They might say, “We were fooled when you said you would create a clean area for us.”

But nothing can be done about that.


*The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

by Lee Jung-jae
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