SEOUL, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister nominee Chung Un-chan said Monday that a government plan to relocate nine ministries and four major administration bodies to the newly created Sejong City in central South Korea would lead to nationwide inefficiency.
Triggering fresh debate on the politically sensitive Sejong City project, Chung, formerly an economics professor at Seoul National University (SNU), said that the government will have to seek alternative plans for the new town envisioned as a new administrative capital.
"I think the (Sejong City) project will give rise to administrative inefficiency on a national scale," said Chung in his parliamentary confirmation hearing.
The project to build Sejong City in South Chungcheong Province, about 160 km south of Seoul, was first conceived in 2002 as a presidential campaign promise of then ruling Democratic Party candidate Roh Moo-hyun. Explosive support from Chungcheong voters swayed the result of a very close presidential race in favor of Roh at that time.
Originally aimed at relocating the capital city from Seoul to Sejong, the 22 trillion won (US$18.2 billion) project has been revised with the aim of building a city that can house some major administrative bodies, including the prime minister's office and nine ministries.
Fearful of a political backlash in Chungcheong, the incumbent Lee Myung-bak administration has refrained from mentioning a possibility of revising or downsizing the Sejong City project. But Lee's prime minister nominee, Chung, has publicly spoken out against the project, incurring fierce protests from opposition parties.
"It is inefficient to scatter administrative ministries and agencies across two different locations. The move will give rise to the unnecessary and inefficient travel of ministers, vice ministers and their documents," Chung said.
Citing Germany as an example, he noted that the past division of government offices between Bonn and Berlin had created enormous confusion and inefficiency.
He then stressed that any new planned city should be designed as a self-sufficient city, instead of an administrative town.
"I think a planned city should be self-sufficient. But the new city seems to be far from self-sufficient and that inefficiency sparks the controversy over the project."
"I myself have yet to find an excellent alternative plan for (Sejong City), but think the nation should work harder to make it a self-sufficient city. I will do my best to finalize a new vision (for Sejong) as soon as possible."
The 63-year-old nominee, who served as president of SNU, has already said in a pre-hearing statement to the National Assembly that the city is not very efficient, hinting at his willingness to revise the project.
"I will make sure that the alternative plans would not be disadvantageous to Chungcheong (province). I'll do my best to devise the best plan."
Chung also disclosed his opinions on pending economic issues, including the exit strategy, or withdrawal of economy-boosting measures.
"It is necessary to make a wise judgment about the timing for the exit strategy, but it is difficult to determine when to adopt the exit strategy," he said, vowing to pursue the matter in a cautious and conservative way.
Chung also defended himself from allegations of evading military service decades ago after an opposition lawmaker insisted that he claimed being "exempted" from military service in an admission document presented to a U.S. university in 1970, though his military exemption was confirmed in 1977.
Chung explained he mistakenly stated "exempted" in the 1970 U.S. college document.
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