Decentralisation For Development, Security
Nepal has entered into the era of decentralization after the completion of the local, provincial and federal level elections. But due to lack of infrastructures and human resources, the concept of decentralization has not yet been functioning smoothly. Let’s wait and see when the system works effectively.
There is no doubt that the elected representatives as well as the bureaucracy should be well-known about their role and function in decentralization system. They can learn lesson from South Korea about effectively implementing the newly introduced concept.
Believing that a new city will make the government more efficient, the government of the Republic of Korea has been working hard to give a final shape to Korea’s mini-capital in South Chungcheong, the new home for government ministries and other agencies.
Located 120 kilometers south of Seoul that can be reached within an hour by a high-speed train, Sejong City is Korea’s spanking new administrative capital. Sejong was a grandiose campaign of late president Roh Moo-hyun.
He was challenged in Constitutional Court by then Seoul Mayor (and later president) Lee Myung-bak. The court verdict came out saying that South Korea’s capital remains Seoul. Roh’s plan became a political football and was watered down; not every government office would move.
Winning the presidential elections in 2008, Lee Myung-bak became the successor of President Roh. Again Lee administration tried scrapping the scaled-back plan to move most government offices so far out of Seoul proposing to create Sejong as industrial hub bringing conglomerates such as Samsung, Lotte, Hyundai, LG, etc.
But the National Assembly shot down the attempt. Since then, the plan to build a “multifunctional administrative city” named after Sejong the Great, medieval sage-king from the Joseon Dynasty who invented Korea’s alphabet, Hangeul, is in progress.
And the brainchild of the late President Roh Moo-hyun is now becoming a reality. But, what’s the real reason South Korea is decentralizing its government?
For any civil servant tired of the rat-race in Seoul -- one of the most dynamic but frenetic cities on earth -- relief is at hand. In a very big, very bold move, South Korea’s bureaucracies are relocating nationwide.
Seoul is South Korea’s capital since 1392 that houses approximately half the country’s 50 million people and most regulatory, educational and cultural assets. It is sometimes dubbed “The Republic of Seoul.” Although located at the centre of the peninsula – “the belly button of Korea” – Seoul lies just 35 miles from the frontier with North Korea.
In 2004, Korea enacted, under reformist president Roh Moo-hyun (in power from 2003-2008) the “Special Act for Balanced National Development” to relocate governmental resources outside Seoul.
The movement from Seoul, which lies within artillery range of North Korea, is being mirrored by the huge United States army base in the city centre, slated to move south by 2018 to a site in Pyeongtaek, 40 miles south of Seoul. Even so, it is widely conceded that the main reason for the move was Roh’s “balanced national development” agenda, his key electoral platform.
Citing the U.S. example, where New York is the center of business and Washington D.C. of politics, Roh proposed a new governmental capital city.
“Our present capital Seoul is located close to North Korea artillery range, so we needed to move it away within a reasonable distance,” said Oh Young-jin, editor of national daily The Korea Times and a former aide to the late Roh. “And if everything is in Seoul, it is an inequality issue for provincial areas, which drives people from around the nation to Seoul,” he said.
Still, the broad relocation plan proceeded, given the consensus that Korea is, indeed, overly centralized, and given the site of the new administrative capital -- a strategic national electoral district.
Hence the southeastern port of Busan becomes the new home to maritime- and fisheries-related agencies; the industrial-opolis of Ulsan, encompassing Hyundai Motors and the world’s largest shipyard, gets energy- and labour-related agencies; rugged Gangwon Province takes tourism-related offices. And so on.
Given that Seoul used to be a “one-stop shop” for all Korean affairs – political, economic, commercial – experts are divided over the pros and cons of decentralization. The jewel in the crown of decentralization, swallowing the largest clump of public offices outside Seoul is the new administrative capital: Sejong City.
From North-South and from East-West, this is where all networks pass through that lies between the industrial city of Daejeon (15 miles) and Gongju, an ancient capital (15 miles) and is 27 miles from Pyeongtaek port.
Mayor of Sejong City Dr. Lee Choon-hee talking with journalists from 50 countries of the world who were in the Republic of Korea to participate in the World Journalists Conference 2018 held in early March, informed that as per the road map for the massive move of the government to Sejong City almost 60 per cent of the government ministries, agencies and offices had been moved so far.
“A total of nearly 11,000 civil servants will also relocate their lives from Seoul to Sejong City,” informed the Mayor Dr. Lee. “Construction started in 2006; residents began arriving in 2011; by 2030, Sejong will be home to half a million inhabitants,” said Mayor Dr. Lee.
For planning and design, Korea benchmarked Brazil’s Brazilia, Australia’s Canberra, Malaysia’s Putra Jaya, Canada’s Ottawa, Turkey’s Ankara and Kazakhstan’s Istana. “This is not just any new city, it’s a ‘future planning city,’” Lee says. “People can come here to work, or to see benchmarks of, for example, architecture.”
Sejong is built around a lake park and adjacent hillscape. New Korean cities are required to include 20-30 per cent green space; Sejong is 52 per cent green. It boasts of two architectural icons. Its seven-story, central government building features a garden running over its two-mile long roof, linking the 18 government agencies within. And its glass-sided library, designed like an open book overlooking the lake park is a particularly appropriate feature.
After the completion of the construction of the city, all the government ministries and agencies will be moved to Sejong from Seoul. However, the government bodies that will not move from Seoul include the President’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Unification, the Ministry of Justice, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the National Assembly.
Many bureaucracies maintain “liaison offices” in Seoul for senior staff, and many bureaucrats commute to the capital on weekends.
A cluster of concrete buildings emerges in the barren, snow-covered fields of South Chungcheong. The road is empty of cars or passersby, and construction trucks are idle along the road. Sustainability was also a guiding principle. Sejong is served by buses running on an elevated roadway, making all parts of the city reachable within 20 minutes. The Bus Rapid Transit system, using unmanned buses, will connect the apartment complexes and the government complex, and link Sejong City with other cities.
While construction continues on the government complex that will house the Prime Minister’s Office and other ministries, the first bloc of apartments, named “First Prime,” has been completed that has 2,242 apartments and 215 stores, and people started moving in.
The visit of the journalists found a surrealistically lifeless scene. There were no signs of residents, and the gardens were bare. Commercial buildings in the complex were largely vacant.
“We think the situation will get a lot better soon,” said the Mayor. “It’s the same for every new town. It’s like the first days in Bundang.” (Bundang is a large community developed in the 1990s in Gyeonggi, intended to attract homeowners living in Seoul. At the time, the project led a real estate boom.)
For residents of First Prime, passenger cars will be a must, although the government has declared an ambitious plan to make it an environmentally friendly city. Aiming at reducing 70 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, Sejong plans to replace 15 per cent of total energy usage with renewable energy, and a public transportation system and bicycle paths will be built to discourage residents from relying on cars.
Aiming for Sejong City to be a self-sustaining city with a population of 500,000 by 2030 it was designed to be eco-friendly. Its transportation system was supposed to minimize the use of privately-owned cars while encouraging people to use public transport or bicycles. As part of the plan, the city was built with smaller road capacities and parking lots. Sejong City will be “Korea’s face to the world” and “Asia’s new green metropolis”.
The Korean government has also selected Sejong (and Busan too) as the locations of Korea’s first “smart cities,” applying a next generation network system, big data and artificial intelligence on its infrastructure, including smart grids and autonomous vehicle operation to be completed by 2021.
The goal is to create a city with innovative industrial ecosystems from scratch adopting autonomous public transportation, efficient traffic management systems, lowering energy consumption and increasing public safety through integrated systems that connect surveillance cameras and smart street lights which automatically turn on when a person is in need of help.
The Sejong city is designed with a theme emphasizing smart energy and transportation including a special zero emission complex and fine dust monitoring center, while the Busan smart city will focus on logistics and water-related technologies including smart purification and hydropower generators as well as natural disaster management systems.
If Sejong develops as planned, it could rebalance power in a country long dominated by the megalopolis capital of Seoul.
The decade-old Sejong plan seems to reflect a change in the way South Korea thinks about its development: As the country has reached first-world status its people have become less concerned about the rate of growth and more concerned about who benefits.
Politicians have tried, with little success, to feed growth in farther-flung regions with packages of incentives as breeding grounds for industry and private research. Sejong, for now, has one attraction: a stylish three-story public relations office, all curvy walkways and mood lighting, that shows off the vision for a great city.
Nepal is holding the fourth Summit of BIMSTEC next week. The regional body is expected to discuss various issues pertaining to connectivity, investment,...