Deal struck to put capital relocation back on agenda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 12:00am

The South Korean government's attempt to move the administrative capital from Seoul to the city of Gonju in the centre of the country appeared to be on again yesterday - at least in a watered-down form.

The revival of hopes for the massive project came after government and opposition parties agreed to pass a special law sidestepping a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which blocked the relocation of most administrative functions of the central authorities.

Party officials said the agreement would allow the transfer of ministries connected to the economy, including the ministries of finance, commerce, agriculture, maritime affairs, information-communication, science-technology, labour, environment, and construction and transportation.

Culture, education and budget planning functions, as well as 30 additional government offices, will also be moved. However, six major ministries, including the unification, defence and foreign ministries, will remain in Seoul.

The project was put forward by President Roh Moo-hyun and his Uri Party as a way of creating more balanced development in the country, which is heavily skewed towards Seoul.

It was halted last year when the Constitutional Court deemed it illegal. The plan also ran into public opposition because of the huge expenditure involved.

'There were many worries regarding the cost when the government tried to relocate the administrative capital last time, due to various arguments that the sum needed for the move would far exceed the government's estimate,' Uri Party member Kim Han-gill said.

'So this time, we will set a ceiling on the possible costs.'

Under the new proposals, the budget for construction has been set at a maximum of 10 trillion won ($77.6 billion).

The central government has been designated to supply about 5.8 trillion won, with local government and the private sector assuming part of the expense. Building is scheduled to begin in 2007.

A spokeswoman for the opposition Grand National Party quoted its chairwoman Park Geun-hye as saying the agreement was the best option after the party's own proposal to relocate only six government ministries was turned down.

Seoul Metropolitan Council is likely to see its functions and authority shrink following the move of government offices. It has been one of the most vocal opponents of the new plan.

'The plan for a new administrative town is almost the same as the capital move plan, which was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court,' said Lim Dong-kyu, president of the city council.