Not the spoils of war

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Not the spoils of war

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is busy drawing up a blueprint for administering the city government in his own way. He began his job by signing a bill to provide free lunches to all elementary school students, thus putting an end to the intense debates over the populist program and heralding a big change in the capital city. A committee will soon be launched to project in detail the direction of his government; the committee will mostly comprise his campaign staff and some civilian experts, both of which will determine his major policy direction.

Park has already pledged to overhaul major projects pursued by former Mayor Oh Se-hoon, including a massive civil engineering project to build a glitzy art center on an island in the Han River and another to float passenger ships and freighters on a canal linking the river and the Yellow Sea. Suspension of these projects cannot be the answer because it could result in a bigger waste of money than a savings. He should approach the issue prudently and rationally.

Thankfully, he has decided to finish the ongoing renovation of Yanghwa Bridge, after taking into account the 32 billion won ($28.9 million) that has already been spent. Likewise, he should keep in mind that continuity and consistency is as important as change. He should push ahead with his commitments based on priority and feasibility unless he wants to strain the already limited city government coffers.

The city budget is a good example. The budget available for new projects - except for fixed expenditures - is up to 500 billion won. Yet if Park rushes to fulfill his campaign pledge to build 80,000 public apartments - a 33 percent increase from an earlier plan - by 2014, a whopping 400 billion won will be needed to build 7,000 apartments next year alone. And that doesn’t even include the funds that will be needed to carry out other campaign promises. He should also heed his promise to cut the city’s ballooning debt by 7 trillion won by 2014.

The election of Park as a candidate representing a consortium of opposition forces is also a cause for worry. He must forge a coalition government, which is also likely to cause chaos in city governance. Furthermore, the Seoul mayor has the privilege of appointing about 20 executive posts as well as the heads and auditors of several organizations. Park must stay away from the temptation of rewarding his campaign staff with appointments. What’s important is their expertise and ability to govern effectively. Above all, he must remember that the city budget and government positions are not the spoils of war.
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