Every won must be spent wisely

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Every won must be spent wisely

The construction of a makeshift staircase at World Cup park in Sangam-dong, northern Seoul, was a typical example of the exhibitionist and profligate bureaucracy that remains deeply rooted in the Seoul city government.

The temporary staircase was built hastily for a cost of 25 million won ($22,992) for a publicity event showcasing the Seoul mayor’s planting trees on Arbor Day on April 5. It was a “thoughtful” idea dreamed up by city officials to make the walk to and from the podium that day more comfortable for their boss. The trees planted on the day were purchased for a cost of 22.5 million won. So the event turned out to be a case of the tail wagging the dog.

What’s more incomprehensible, and ludicrous, is that it cost 2 million won to dismantle the staircase after the event was over.

Seoul’s bureaucrats are infamous for their profligacy.

The so-called “Design Seoul” galleries, which feature video clips of Seoul sites, have been built in 12 locations around the capital for a whopping 5.9 billion won.

The galleries hardly get any visitors, yet the city is planning to spend millions of won to renovate and upgrade them this year. It is of great concern that Seoul taxpayers’ money has been left in the hands of officials who are such spendthrifts.

What is more disconcerting, however, is the motive behind these exhibitionist projects: to get good marks from their boss. It is well known that city government executives vie to lobby for various projects, as long as they come from the mind of Mayor Oh Se-hoon. Many officials feel no shame in bending the rules or falsifying budget numbers in order to get the work done.

All of this nonsense could stop if the mayor were to shun such disproportionate displays of loyalty and spending. But we have yet to see that happen. Guru Basavanna, a famous 12th-century Indian thinker and reformer, once said “My people, by their flattery, have put me on the golden cross and crucified me.”

But there are signs that Oh may have grown tired of the foolishness of the people around him or come to fear such a deadly crucifixion from Seoul citizens. In a recent meeting, he reportedly urged that officials rummage through the budget and fix any holes to prevent anything else from flooding out.

The Seoul city government has a budget of more than 20 trillion won. For the money not to be squandered, the city must ensure that every won is spent as wisely as possible.

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