SEJONG Special Autonomous City (Sejong City) was originally designed as a new administrative city with aims toward decentralization and more balanced local development by the late President Roh Muhyun. Based on the Special Act for Construction of the Multifunctional Administrative City enforced from March 2005, the city is to be built in the Yeongi- Kongju area of Chungcheongnam-do with a construction budget of 22.5 trillion won (19 billion dollars). Under the original plan, the expected population of Sejong City would be 500,000, and about two-thirds of all ministries and governmental agencies were to be relocated there. Construction began in 2007 and is planned to be completed in 2030. The relocation of governmental ministries is planned from 2012 to 2015, while private institutions are planned to enter from 2010.
However, with Prime Minster Chung Unchan saying the plan, “was not an efficient policy from an economist’s point of view,” in September 2009, the silenced but constantly latent opponents to the plan have become more vocal. The current government’s wish to revise the plan, changing it from an administrative city to a center of education, science, and industry has been revealed and is causing controversy. The wish to revise the original plan was reconfirmed on November 27 during a televised national “Dialogue with President Lee Myung-bak”.
Relocation of the capital was one of the electoral commitments of the late President Roh. However, it was not an easy process for President Roh and the Uri Party from the beginning. Opposition parties, such as the Grand National Party, were against the plan and asked for a referendum. Furthermore, the Constitutional Court of Korea decided that relocation of the capital was unconstitutional.
Hence, the National Assembly decided to change the capital relocation plan and instead build an administrative city. The Grand National Party accepted it in 2005 before national elections. President Lee Myung-bak was also positive about this plan, at least during the presidential electoral campaign in 2007.
Construction of Sejong City began in July 2007 and 24% of completion was reported as of September 2009. 5.4 trillion won out of a total project budget of 22.5 trillion won has been spent, while significant parts of the Prime Minster Office and other public buildings have been completed. However, as the controversy begins anew, the prospect of the construction remains uncertain.
Lee Wan-koo, Governor of Chungcheongnam- do, criticized the government’s plans for revision, saying on December 1 that, “The governmental discussion for revision is not legitimate in structure and procedure. Also, the governmental proposal for alternatives to an administrative city has been ever-changing, and has included a business city and an education and science city.
Now it is an international science business belt.” Governor Lee provided reasons why these alternative plans cannot be successful, as well as challenging the illegitimacy and procedural aberration. In the meantime, strong supporters of the revised plan even became violent, with the former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye receiving letters threatening to physically harm her for supporting the original plan. Democratic Party Chairman Chung Se-kyun stated that the party would not accept the revoke of the current government and fight by allying with the Democratic Labor Party, the Liberty Forward Party, and the Creative Korea Party as well as the Pro-Park Coalition Party. At the same time, 198 representatives of civic groups issued a statement against the governmental revoke of the original plan.
Meanwhile, the government seems to have changed its stance, suggesting a plan to relocate the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in Sejong City instead of the original plan of nine ministries. The controversy over Sejong City furthered disputes over other controversial issues, including the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project and innovative cities, which are not likely to be settled anytime soon.