[Letters] The fiscal crisis in Taebaek, Gangwon

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[Letters] The fiscal crisis in Taebaek, Gangwon

Who made Taebaek, the old mining city in Gangwon with faded glory, like the second Yubari of Japan? Why did Taebaek fall into the deep swamp of debts and earn the disgraceful label of the city government with a fiscal crisis? The city government’s waste of budgets is to blame. On top of that, the city’s legislative council also failed to check and monitor the city government properly.

Under the special law governing areas with dead mines, established in December 1995, Taebaek received 2.77 billion won ($2.5 million) over 10 years. Yeongwol, Jeongseon and Samcheok are other Gangwon cities that received funds.

After the residents’ rallies in December 1999, Taebaek and the central government agreed to receive another 1 trillion won of funding for the next 10 years and jobs for 3,000 people. But the city of Taebaek made a critical mistake. Of the 1 trillion won, about 300 billion won was spent on building roads - an easy project. The rest of the fund was used to finance three mines still in operation.

The project of creating jobs for 3,000 people began in 2005. The O2 Resort was planned to create jobs for 2,000, while a public safety theme park was planned to hire another 1,000. At the initial stage, the budget for the O2 Resort was estimated to be 170 billion won, but it increased without specific reasons to 415 billion won after the local government head was changed twice. Whenever the master plan design was changed, the construction budget also grew exponentially, prompting a fiscal crisis. Of the 1.6 trillion won of the total project expense, 992.1 billion won were debts. It was a classic example of wasting tax money, just like the Alpensia Resort Project of Gangwon, which faced severe criticism during the National Assembly’s recent audit.

Although 200 billion won has been spent, a completion ceremony has not even taken place for the safety theme park. A firefighting school, one component of the theme park, barely managed to open. Until the mid-1980, Taebaek was the land of black gold, enjoying a booming economy as the main producer of coal. When it became the city in 1981, Taebaek had 130,000 population, but today, only about 50,000 are living there. In 1981, there were 174 public servants in the city, but today, the number more than tripled to 620, a stark contrast to the decrease in population.

And yet, no one is taking responsible for the fiscal crisis of the city, and the situation is growing more and more deplorable.

Of the 18 years of the city’s past with five elected mayors, an astronomical amount of tax money has been wasted. What will the Taebaek residents face when their dream of a city with 3,000 jobs and economic effects from 1 trillion won in investment is crushed due to the fiscal crisis of the city government?

Tak Kyung-myung, adviser of the Gangwon Broadcasting Network
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