Sejong City Project Faces Downsizing
Residents of Chungcheong Province are increasingly showing their anger toward the government's alleged move to downscale the Multifunctional Administrative City (MAC), also known as Sejong City, an administrative capital currently under construction in the region.
They are afraid they may not see a comprehensive hub of administration, business and education as originally planned owing to the government's neglect coupled with incessant disputes between the ruling and opposition parties.
The essence of the project is relocating some 40 government ministries and offices to the Yeongi-Gongju area in South Chungcheong Province and creating, for the first time in modern Korean history, a separate administrative hub.
The original architects of the plan, during the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, believed that the undertaking would serve as a new engine of growth in the region, with a new influx of government officials and their families.
However, signs are apparent that the current administration is headed toward altering the project. The government has delayed the announcement of a specific list of ministries to be relocated to the and slashed related budgets. Korea has so far invested more than four trillion won for the project.
``The initial plan is not suitable for developing a self-sufficient city with a population of at least 500,000,'' Gwon Doh-yeop, first vice minister of land, transport and maritime affairs, said in a KBS radio program Tuesday. ``We will make the utmost effort to expand the area's high-tech industry and aid its future development.''
His remarks strongly indicate that the government is considering an industrial cluster as opposed to an administrative capital, as dictated in the original plan.
Chungcheong residents firmly oppose such a change.
A civic group in the area announced Wednesday that it will file a complaint against the public administration ministry for dereliction of duty. It said it has failed to confirm and announce the ministries to be relocated.
The NGO hit the Lee Myung-bak administration for a loss of interest in the project and added the incumbent administration has lost interest in balanced regional development, the main national agenda of the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Angering the Chungcheong citizens is their perception that their province is often sidelined from the government's development plans in comparison to larger provinces such as Gyeonggi and Gyeongsang.
The concept of a separate administrative capital is not totally new. The late President Park Chung-hee had a similar idea in mind that was never realized. Chungcheong is determined not to see history repeat itself.
The National Assembly, meanwhile, is to review a pending bill beginning today on the legal status of Sejong City.
The governing Grand National Party is opting for a special city belonging to the province, claiming that the city would be unlikely to achieve a population of 500,000 or more, a necessary component for the city's economic viability. It says it should remain a part of the province, which Chungcheong considers a major downscaling of the original plan.
However, the main opposition Democratic Party (DP) is adamant on the designation of a special autonomous city commanding status equivalent to that of a province. ``Opposition parties will work together to pass the bill during the current parliamentary session with the aim of creating the Sejong Special Autonomous City,'' DP Chairman Chung Sye-kyun said. The session ends late this month.
Residents said if the government gets legislative backing to downscale the project, the province will stage massive protests. Around 20,000 citizens are already organizing a rally for April 27, according to a report.