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Unhappy `Happy City`

Posted April. 04, 2013 08:52,   


Korea’s administrative capital Sejong City was designed to achieve balanced development of the country and modeled after Brasilia of Brazil and Canberra of Australia. When Brazil first moved its capital to Brasilia in 1960, reactions were mostly negative. Nowadays, however, the capital city is considered successful. When it comes to construction techniques, Sejong benchmarked Putrajaya of Malaysia, one of the newest administrative capitals in the world. Until the area became the current city of Sejong, it had to weather various difficulties. Constitutional Court ruled that the legislation to build a new administrative capital violated the Constitution. The new capital project went back to square one under the Lee Myung-bak administration.

About 5,000 government officials of seven government bodies, including the Prime Minister’s Office, the Strategy and Finance Ministry and the Land and Transport Ministry, have moved to the city but Sejong City`s government complex fails to function normally yet. Prime Minister Chung Hong-won worked only six days in Sejong for the past 30 days since taking office. Finance Minister Hyeon Oh-seok went to his office in the city only twice in about 10 days. Many ministers and vice ministers stay in Seoul most of the time to attend Cabinet meetings or to report to the president. It is estimated that the expenses for business trip back and forth between Seoul and Sejong by officials will reach several hundred billion won (several hundred million U.S. dollars) a year.

Officials working at the new government complex complain about lack of infrastructure nearby. According to a survey by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sejong City was the first in the smoking and drinking rates. Those officials living separately from their families seem to drink more from loneliness. Sejong City is also dubbed Happy City, but those officials transferred to that city do not seem happy.

It is only natural that the government is not efficient because the government bodies are located in four cities of Seoul, Gwacheon, Sejong and Daejeon. The presidential office’s controlling most of the government affairs also hinders the efficiency of the government in Sejong. For example, though the 2013 economic policy plan and the comprehensive measures for the real estate market announced on Monday were announced in Sejong but account for the details at the presidential office. Presidential reporters even call Senior Presidential Secretary for Economic Affairs Cho Won-dong “Ttowa Suseok,” which means “the senior secretary is coming again (to the press room).” President Park stood against former President Lee Myung-bak as she supported building the administrative capital. If the president puts in place the responsible prime minister and ministers system as she pledged and activates video conferencing, Sejong City will be settled down soon.

Editorial Writer Shin Yeon-soo (ysshin@donga.com)