[Viewpoint] Lessons of ‘Sejong City syndrome’

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[Viewpoint] Lessons of ‘Sejong City syndrome’

A vote by the National Assembly put an end to the Sejong City project, an issue that has created heated controversy since the early days of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

The social discord surrounding revision of the Sejong City project has been mostly a debate of justification over the purpose and need for the administrative capital city.

The National Assembly has ended the controversy for now.

However, the government and politicians have not yet taken action regarding follow-up measures to pursue the original plan or the future direction of the project. We only see a few hopeful signs that the original Sejong City plan has entered the right track.

The relationship between President Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, which had worsened over the Sejong City revision, has changed to a reconciliation mood, and the key figures who had proposed and promoted the revision have been mostly replaced in the Aug. 8 cabinet reshuffling.

The only government action since the revision was voted down was the Ministry of Public Administration and Security’s notice for changes on the list of government agencies to be relocated to Sejong City from the 2008 government reorganization.

It is fortunate that the political controversy over the Sejong City project has quieted. However, that does not make the project any clearer. The government’s will to pursue the original plan is not yet revealed. What we need to pay attention to now is how the government proceeds with the project.

I wonder what management procedure and methods the government would adapt in order to follow the original plan. The Sejong City project had been halted for the last two years. The government and politicians need to figure out how this gap would be filled.

There are two major concerns. The first is how to secure the budget that had not been executed so far based on the midterm fiscal plan. According to the midterm fiscal plan, 1.2 trillion won ($1 billion) alone is allotted as a budget to promote the Sejong City plan. However, the government has only drawn up 800 million won for the project next year.

The midterm fiscal plan is an important budget allocation plan for important national policy projects each year. However, the discrepancy between the plan and the budget leads to a shortage of 400 million won next year alone. Combine the accumulated budget allocation from the last two years, and the difference would be 600 million won.

In order for the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to properly relocate the nine ministries, two services and two agencies, as it had announced, stable construction is necessary - at least the government office buildings.

Originally, 12 ministries, four services and two agencies were to relocate, but the list changed in the 2008 government reorganization. And the budget needs to reflect the actual costs of the necessary constructions. Only then can we be assured of the will of the government to faithfully carry out the Sejong City plan under existing laws.

The second challenge regards the legal modification about the Sejong City jurisdiction and its legal status. In fact, the politicians have been arguing over the purpose and need for Sejong City. There have not been sufficient discussions on the legal status of the newly created city, and the subject has been left as homework.

The politicians need to reach a consensus and make a new set of laws on installing a special autonomous city of Sejong. A more complex issue is inclusion of surrounding areas. The positions of the local residents and the local autonomous governments are entangled, and we have not been able to find a clue to the solution.

Agreement on the legal status of Sejong City needs to be reached at the regular National Assembly session. And legislation has to be completed as well. If the government concludes the budget planning by the end of October, the final direction for the project will be revealed.

The construction of Sejong City has obtained legal justification. However, it can only be possible when the government secures the cumulative budget that has not been executed and builds infrastructure properly.

Although the government made a public notice, it is an administrative procedure. It does not guarantee the budget or confirms the government’s will.

Therefore, the government can convince the citizens that it is following the original plan when not only the budget for next year but also the unexecuted budgets for the last two years are reflected.

There certainly is a role the politicians need to play. Regardless of their factional interests, they need to promptly decide on the legal status and inclusion issue.

Unless the government and politicians step forward, the lessons of “Sejong City syndrome” we have experienced for the last two years will disappear, and we would have to repeat the political discord.

*The writer is a professor of public administration at Paichai University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Chung Young-chung
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