Park Nam-chun from the ruling Democratic Party took office as the mayor of Incheon Metropolitan City on July 2. In his inauguration address, Mayor Park promised that he would enhance the value of Incheon and the pride of its citizens through policies based on fairness, communications, and innovation. He also pledged to make Incheon a “Special City for Citizens” where three million citizens take the initiative in running the city. BusinessKorea sat down with Mayor Park to hear about his plans to lead the city. The following are excerpts from an interview with him. -- Ed.
How do you feel about being sworn in as new mayor of Incheon?
First of all, I am deeply grateful to citizens for their overwhelming support in the local election. I think that citizens sent me a lot of support as they really wanted a new Incheon and changes in city administration. I will carry out municipal administration with a greater sense of responsibility, taking into consideration their expectations.
You said in your inaugural address that you would open a new era for Incheon and make the city special. In what aspect will Incheon become special?
Incheon has been under a host of regulations because it is part of the Seoul metropolitan area. Yet it has been a marginal city and suffered discrimination as it is not Seoul. Incheon citizens feel that their lives have been tough and take little pride in their city.
By a special city, I mean that Incheon will no longer remain a city marginalized in the outer area of Seoul. I will do my best to renew Incheon citizens’ pride in the city by making Incheon the center of peace and cooperation in the West Sea.
In this new era of Incheon, citizens, not the mayor, will be at the center of municipal administration. I would like to help them take pride in being Incheon citizens by placing top priority on making them happy. I will show that Incheon citizens are the protagonist in the new era.
The ruling and opposition parties have alternately produced Incheon mayors. Aren’t there any problems in terms of the sustainability of municipal administration?
We will succeed good policies of the former municipal government but correct its mistakes and take up the slack.
The number of election promises has been adjusted from 200 to 148. The construction of a new city hall building and the Songdo Waterfront project have been sent back to the drawing board. What are the reasons?
There is a misunderstanding. Roughly 200 campaign promises were reduced to 178 by the transition team. The 178 pledges included 30 for wards and counties. However, these promises were not reviewed by the transition team as they need to be coordinated with new heads of wards and counties. So we announced that we had reviewed 148 pledges except those for wards and counties. But it was erroneously reported that the total number of pledges has been adjusted to 148.
The expression of "review" used by the transition team for some projects does not mean that the projects will be canceled or discontinued. This means that we will push forward with them after taking into account financing methods, project periods and project scales among others. They include projects that I have promised. In the future, we will collect the opinions of citizens to implement these projects.
How will you take care of pending issues such as the landfill site of the Seoul metropolitan zone?
Many local issues including the landfills of the Seoul metropolitan area remain unresolved, causing friction between the involved local governments. One reason is that the related local governments, including the Incheon city government, have been obsessed with showing results to the electorate and hastily implemented projects without taking into account various opinions and interests.
Particularly, since local issues involve diverse interests of citizens, a more careful and prudent approach is needed. I will not make decisions arbitrarily and pay a lot of attention to the process of persuading citizens.
Including potential debts, Incheon City’s debts exceed 15 trillion won. What is your plan to enhance the city’s financial soundness?
Improving the city’s financial soundness is quite a challenging task that requires in-depth studies. The transition team additionally found out that Incheon City had more potential debts than expected. We will come up with a more concrete and sustainable solution to the financial soundness issue within a short period of time.
The previous municipal government could reduce debts thanks to a temporary spike in local tax revenues. The problem is that property taxes and acquisition taxes accounted for the largest portion of the increased tax revenues. This is because only real estate transactions increased without an economic boom and the growth of household income.
The enhancement of the city’s financial soundness is not an easy task. In the first place, the municipal government should not have started projects with debts. But there is no use crying over spilt milk. We will prepare and implement measures for the city’s financial soundness by studying the matter in depth.
The city council’s oversight of the municipal government is expected to ease as the ruling party has secured a majority in the council. What relationship are you going to forge with the city council? Please tell us about your plans to cooperate with the city council.
Checks and balances are necessary for the future of the municipal government. We will continue to respect the city council as a partner in municipal administration so that we can maintain a healthy relationship of checks and balances with it. We will also create a system that is constantly monitored by citizens under a public-private cooperative governance arrangement.
To this end, I am planning to establish an organization directly controlled by the mayor, which is aimed at achieving joint governance, innovation, and communications at the same time. We will also continuous joint governance by establishing a system that monitors and evaluates the level of joint governance.
Incheon has rich cultural heritage from the period of port opening in the late 19th century. Recently, some buildings from this period have been dismantled, spawning calls for the preservation of the remaining buildings. Are there any plans or measures to preserve them?
Some citizens are calling for the preservation of modern cultural heritage following the demolition of Aegyeongsa Building last year. It is contradictory for Incheon City to remove cultural heritage indiscriminately while pushing for the creation of a zone to better preserve heritage from the port-opening era.
Privately owned buildings are the biggest problem. This is because it is difficult to stop demolition work. In the end, Incheon City will have to buy them or take them over by offering their owners substitute lots, but this approach obviously has limits.
The city government will have to preserve buildings that urgently need protection by using its budget, but it is also urgently needed to persuade private owners. We will offer them incentives to preserve their buildings voluntarily.
Would you explain about your strategy to grow Incheon into a Northeast Asian hub?
We will make Incheon a "special city of peace in Northeast Asia" in line with the coming era of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. We are planning to remove tension from the sea off Incheon to turn it into a fertile fishing ground. We will push for the construction of an inter-Korean peace road from South Korea’s Yeongjong Island, which has the world's best international airport, to Kaesong and Haeju in North Korea. Then the road will be used to transport goods from Incheon through Pyongyang, then China and then to Europe.
Finally, what do you want to say to your citizens with regard to municipal administration?
As stated in my inaugural address, I will put communications and cooperation at the top of my agenda for municipal administration. Citizens will empowered to take part in municipal administration. We will not make any arbitrary decisions or make citizens a rubber stamp. We will run the city in a citizen-friendly way by listening to the voices of all three million citizens and apply their opinions to administration. If citizens take part in municipal administration more actively and indicate our mistakes if there are any, we will be able to make a meaningful change in Incheon. I look forward to receiving your steady support.