Sejong move splits families, hits marriage prospects
It’s lunchtime at the cafeteria in the government complex in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, and the mood is anything but buoyant. The conversation at most tables seems to be about Sejong City, the country’s new administrative capital in South Chungcheong, where many of the civil servants will be forced to move in the next three years.
It’s hard to find a worker excited about the move, and some are in despair.
“I have two sons in middle school at the moment,” said an officer of the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, which will move from Seoul in December. “I plan to leave them and my wife in Seoul because I’m concerned about Sejong City’s lack of educational facilities.”
He said he was betting on the move to Sejong being scrapped, as the Lee Myung-bak administration unsuccessfully tried to do.
“My ministry will move to Sejong City in December, but I’m only allowed to move into the new apartment I bought one year later,” said a director at the Ministry of Environment. “For the time being, I will have to find a jeonse [key money] apartment, but most of the contracts are for two years.” With a son entering high school in March, he doesn’t know if he will move his family.
Some civil servants are even thinking of quitting, especially women hoping to find husbands soon. Traditionally, civil servants are prime candidates for marriage because of their stable jobs, pensions and the prestige of office. Matchmaking agencies and ajummas [middle-aged Korean women] were keen to find them spouses in the past. But not so much these days, since potential spouses don’t want to live in Sejong City.
“I’m searching for a new job so that I don’t have to go down to Sejong City,” said a female official in her 30s from the Ministry of Knowledge Economy. “I really don’t want to go there.”
According to sources, a woman who worked at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance applied for a transference to ministries that are not moving out of Seoul, which includes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Unification and the Ministry of Justice. In the end, she wasn’t accepted. The Finance Ministry was considered one of the most prestigious ministries, but its luster dimmed after it was named one of the first ministries to move to Sejong City. According to ministry sources, the female official said she will quit if she doesn’t find a new job in Seoul.
Early last year, the Prime Minister’s Office conducted a survey of employees at 16 government agencies, and 87 percent said they will move to Sejong City, while 13 percent said they will commute from Seoul. Of the 87 percent, 46 percent said they will move to Sejong City with their families, while 41 percent said they will go alone. Of the 41 percent, three quarters were married.
In the meantime, jobs at the Financial Services Commission and the Financial Supervisory Service are growing in popularity because they will remain in Yeouido, western Seoul.
The aim of the controversial project is to decongest Seoul by dividing the central government and to boost regional development.
Sixteen ministries and agencies and 20 government offices should begin moving this year, and the move will be complete by 2014. A total of 10,452 civil servants will relocate their lives from Seoul to Sejong City. By 2030, Sejong City is supposed to be a city with a population of 500,000.
“The excessive concentration in the capital region has caused severe social problems like housing shortages, sky-rocketing housing prices, congestion and pollution,” said Choi Young-joon, a public affairs official at the Multifunctional Administrative City Construction Agency.
Construction is in full swing on the new government buildings in Sejong City. The shift will start with the Prime Minister’s Office in September.
“The construction of the Prime Minister’s Office will be completed by April, and officials will move into the new offices five months later,” said Park Byung-dae, deputy director of the public policy division at the Multifunctional Administrative City Construction Agency. “As for the prime minister [Kim Hwang-sik], he will move his office in November, when the construction of the official residence is complete.”
Officials from the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will be next to move in late November and will be followed by the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, the Ministry of Environment and the Fair Trade Commission in December.
At the same time, 14 agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Korea Communications Commission and the State Science & Technology Commission, will move from their Seoul offices to the government complex in Gwacheon.
By Lee Eun-joo [firstname.lastname@example.org]