Few official schemes seem to get finished in South Korea these days. Major national projects are put on hold for months, even years, because of divisive public opinion. Even high-priority plans get delayed amid a lack of leadership and the objection of a vocal minority. The biggest case in point is the government's plan to build the nation's first nuclear waste storage plant. With the proliferation of nuclear power plants, the country badly needs permanent facilities to store nuclear waste. It has been trying to build a storage facility for more than 15 years, but local residents have vehemently opposed the potentially hazardous facilities. The breakthrough came early this year when Buan county, in the southwestern coastal province, offered to house the plant in return for incentives to revitalise its stagnant economy. However, many locals opposed the idea and waged weeks of violent protests. Finally, the government decided to put the case to a vote. If residents reject the plan, it will be scrapped. Another case involves the construction of a new US embassy in Seoul. The current building is deemed too old and small, and so a deal was reached with the South Korean government several years ago to build a new one nearby. But civic groups strongly object to the plan because they claim the new site was originally part of a royal palace in the Chosun dynasty. They say it would destroy historic relics and the nation's cultural heritage. That has obviously annoyed US officials, as some observers associate the civic groups' objections with rising anti-Americanism. There are already several foreign embassies right next to the controversial site. Some historians say the boundaries of the royal palace are not clear, anyway. As the debate goes on, South Koreans are losing the hearts of Americans, their most important allies. Another thorny issue is Seoul's plan to despatch troops to Iraq. The decision was made partly to court US co-operation in resolving the dangerous issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. But the government is unable to decide when and how to send troops, amid highly divided public opinion. Again, this delay in decision-making is pushing the two countries apart. The list of national projects that remain on hold is growing. It includes plans to reclaim coastal areas for agricultural purposes, or to build highways and other infrastructure for national development. Sadly, these delays are undermining the country's international competitiveness. There are, of course, many reasons for the indecisiveness. The prime one is South Korea's democratic progress. As democracy blossoms in this former authoritarian nation, civic groups, local residents and ordinary people have a bigger say in decisions. The central government can no longer just push through projects without a public consensus. Naturally, more thorough public debates are necessary in all areas that affect ordinary people. But that does not mean the central government should give up its authority. Listening to public opinions before making decisions is different from delaying, because of public opposition, projects that have already been given the go-ahead. This is particularly the case when public opposition represents the view of a small, but vocal, minority. In many cases, national projects are put on hold because of the minority. Because the majority remains quiet, the minority's view is often mistaken as the view of everyone. It is time for the South Korean government to pay attention to the quiet majority as well.