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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 25)

All News 07:14 January 25, 2016

Breach of local autonomy
Government should not control mayors' welfare programs

The Ministry of Health and Welfare slammed Seongnam's new youth welfare program in a press release issued last week, describing it as a tax-wasting populist scheme and politically motivated to achieve objectives ahead of the general election scheduled for April 13.

Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung's "youth dividends" program provides gift vouchers worth 125,000 won to all Seongnam residents aged 24 who have lived in the city for at least three years. The administration in Seongnam city plans to provide such vouchers every quarter, amounting to 500,000 won per person every year. The policy aims at providing a bit of financial assistance and encouragement to young adults amid the current high youth unemployment rate. About 11,000 beneficiaries are expected.

Despite having honorable intentions, the mayor faces intense opposition from the central government. The ministry has even filed a petition with the Supreme Court in a bid to suspend the program. The government has also threatened to reduce subsidies to Seongnam, a city located southeast of Seoul, if it continues the program.

The ministry's meddling in Seongnam's youth support program is yet another example of the central government's breach of local autonomy. The government is also opposed to a similar measure being crafted by Seoul City Mayor Park Won-soon for implementation in July.

According to the Seongnam administration, the program was put into practice after proper consultation with the central government, and public hearings and surveys were conducted, in addition to securing approval from Seongnam City Council.

It is the duty of mayors to come up with and implement measures to advance their citizens' living standards within the budgetary capacities of their cities. Therefore, the central government should not be interfering in a city government's policies for improving the livelihoods of citizens. Otherwise, the central government would hurt the spirit of local autonomy. If the policy shows faults, officials need to come up with remedies to address them. But whether to continue or suspend the policy should be decided by the officials and citizens of the city. The latest survey conducted among Seongnam citizens showed that more than 50 percent of respondents supported the program, and that 64.8 percent were against the central government's move to restrain it.

It is not the job of the central government to attack city governments about welfare initiatives. Rather it should focus on leading a constructive dialogue on resolving youth unemployment. The ministry has still not responded to Mayor Park's call for a consultative body for a similar welfare measure in Seoul amid a rising dispute with the central government over Seoul's plan to provide allowances for unemployed youths. Park's idea for a consultative body including the government, rival parties and city officials could be a useful avenue to produce creative ideas to tackle youth unemployment. The central government should communicate and work closely with mayors and governors on this dire national issue.

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