Building local governments

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Building local governments

With opposition parties’ surprising victory in the local elections, we are facing a new challenge: how to establish the relationships between the central and local governments. The new heads of the provincial governments in North and South Chungcheong will demand the revised Sejong City project be scrapped, and new mayors and governors in other parts of the country will ask for a review of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s four rivers project. We are deeply worried about whether local governments will operate smoothly down the road.

The ruling and opposition camps have never had an ideological confrontation such as that seen in the last election, although there certainly has been discord. What worries us is the amount of shouting coming from opposition party candidates. A sincere dialogue and coordination between the two camps is more than necessary at this time.

In fact, the central government and local governments have separate roles. The local governments are tasked with handling affairs related to the welfare of local populations, according to Article 117 of the Constitution; they are not charged with making an independent nation that goes beyond the realm of the central government. Cooperation and readjustment of policies are possible only when that boundary is intact.

Of course, there are times when distinguishing the difference between the government bodies gets difficult. In the case of the four rivers project, which is being implemented locally, local governments will naturally want a say in the process. But the design and execution of national projects falls under the jurisdiction of the central government. Moreover, what the local government can do on its own is severely limited by a lack of financial or human resources.

Furthermore, if there are confrontations on matters of education, the only victims will be our students. We hope they will pursue their policy direction in a prudent manner so as not to turn schools into a battleground for their political strife. Newly-elected school superintendents also need the cooperation of both the central and local governments in order to push their campaign pledges forward. Even the free school lunch program proposal by opposition party candidates will be impossible to implement without financial assistance from both kinds of government.

But if the opposition’s new majority status in local councils can be used as an efficient mechanism to check the ruling party, there may also be a good opportunity for preventing chronic corruption in local government. We genuinely expect the opposition to take a leading role in developing our local governments through dialogue and compromise.
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