Ups and downs in 6 months of Mayor Park
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has been actively promoting his campaign pledges mostly focusing on welfare programs since he took charge of the capital city in October.
He has been busy visiting citizens in person, but his ideas have not always been welcomed by them or civil servants, with some clashing with the central government’s policies. City officials accustomed to a bureaucracy have had difficulty matching the mayor’s governing style.
Achievements in welfare
In a media briefing to mark six months in office Thursday, Park said bloggers recently gave him a new nickname, “Won again.” “Won” indicates the first character of his name.
“The nickname means Park Won-soon achieved it again. Maybe those unhappy with me will say Park caused trouble again. I’ll make more efforts so that everyone can think in a positive way,” he said.
As his appraisal suggests, the civic activist-turned-mayor has pushed quite a lot of things through from the moment he was elected, despite ruffling some feathers.
Some numbers the mayor presented to describe his achievements were: zero ― no one froze to death this past winter; 1.11 million won ― the tuition per semester at the University of Seoul after it was halved; 587,000 ― the number of students with access to free meals at school; 1,152 ― the number of the city’s part-time workers who will get full-time status starting in May; 149 ― the number of citizens who have expressed their opinions so far at Speakers’ Corner; and 920 million won ― the money he collected from tax delinquents.
“These numbers represent the six months since I took over city affairs and established new projects and systems. But this is only the beginning,” Park said.
He emphasized the importance of on-the-spot inspections. Announcing measures for better walking environments, Wednesday, the mayor denounced officials of the Seoul Metropolitan Facilities Management Corp. for not visiting sites where paving stones on the roads were changed, saying that their treating their work as a “desk job” has led to poor construction.
Insufficient support from officials
But it seems city officials haven’t been working efficiently and supportively enough to fulfill the mayor’s demands, partly because they are unfamiliar with the new governing style.
To complicate the situation and land a fresh blow to the bureaucratic culture, Park has created many committees that include civic groups, scholars and citizens. In many cases, such committees are the first to discuss issues and their opinions have a great say in how projects progress.
His governing style is also sometimes criticized for being impromptu.
The mayor has met citizens to listen to their hardships directly and presented various solutions. But some of the ideas were announced without proper discussion with officials in charge of the tasks or without enough review of related regulations.
For example, concerning the recent conflict between the city government and the operator of subway line No. 9 over a fare hike, Park said he would consider citizens’ raising the funds to take over the operating company. But an official in charge said this was unrealistic.
Some of his projects also clashed with central government policies. Last month, the city decided to organize gardens on a site along the Han River where citizens could farm. But the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs was opposed, saying allowing people to cultivate there was against the law. The city finally decided to create the gardens at alternative locations.