Incentives Planned for Merger of Cities
By Do Je-hae
A group of lawmakers plan to submit bills to the National Assembly that would provide special financial grants to cities and counties taking the initiative to integrate with adjacent municipalities.
The legislators of the governing and opposition parties have been campaigning for bills designed to expedite the process of streamlining 249 local governments that constitute the nation's administrative network. They include Rep. Rep. Lee Bum-rae of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), who was elected in the Guro district, Seoul.
``With the enactment of legislation, we will be able to provide a special grant of 2 billion won to consolidated municipalities with a population of over one million and give them enlarged authority for town planning and development rights,'' Lee said in a recent press conference at the Assembly.
The basic idea behind the scheme is to reduce the number of municipalities in the country to between 60 and 70 by merging municipalities that are close geographically and share a similar regional sentiment.
The mergers are aimed at increasing synergy effects and providing support for smaller localities with relatively less financial self-sufficiency, Lee said.
Experts in favor of the plan say that as enlarged administrative entities, they would enjoy higher administrative authority and financial independence from the central government, ultimately reinforcing local autonomy.
``In addition, streamlining neighboring municipalities can cut administrative costs,'' said Lee, as seen in the 1998 integration of Yeosu, Yeocheon and Yeocheon County into one city named Yeosu.
Before 1998, there were 1,942 employees serving the local governments in the region, but now the number stands at 1,658, a 15 percent decrease.
In a similar vein, the Ministry of Government Administration and Security presented plans in early March to give incentives to municipalities that initiate integration with nearby administrative entities sharing common geographic and economic spheres.
According to the ministry plan, the central government will provide as much as 1 billion won for contingency management or new enterprises that benefit the region to such municipalities.
So far, the southern industrial city of Changwon has been most active about the project. A survey released Wednesday shows that 66.1 percent of 1,254 respondents there were in favor of a merger of Changwon, Masan, Jinhae and Haman into one enlarged city.
Changwon set up a task force in charge of necessary preparations ahead of the possible administrative merger.
In Jeolla Provinces, discussions are underway to bring together Suncheon, Yeosu and Gwangyang, ministry sources said. Mokpo and Muan, and Jeonju and Wanju may also be integrated into one, they said.
A survey of lawmakers in Gyeonggi Province revealed that 77 percent welcomed mergers of 31 Gyeonggi municipalities into 10, according to the sources.
But Chungju and Chungwon, oppose a merger, saying that upon integration, citizens will be subject to higher taxes and unwanted facilities.