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Mayor Oh vows to proceed with pet projects

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said Tuesday that he would spend reserve funds to continue the city’s projects that have been suspended due to the opposition of the city council.

The announcement comes after a series of talks between Oh and the Seoul City Council ended without reaching any agreement by Monday.

“(The city government) has decided not to neglect any more citizens’ inconvenience and suspended support programs for the poor that have been caused by the city council’s single-minded decision,” Oh said during a news conference.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon holds a news conference Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon holds a news conference Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

According to him, the city will pour reserve funds into resuming the construction of the Yanghwa Bridge and to support school meals for about 9,000 fifth and sixth graders from low-income households.

The first round of free school meals, planned to start in March, do not cover upper grades, making those from poor families unable to receive existing support.

The mayor added that the construction on the Yanghwa Bridge, which is part of the city’s new sea roadway development plan, will also be resumed to relieve safety concerns.

The council did not approve the budget for the ongoing construction, saying the plan is related to President Lee Myung-bak’s cross-country canal project, which was abandoned due to public opposition.

“The city government is operated normally. However, the current confrontation, if not solved properly, could repeat in the next four years, making the city management unstable,” the mayor said.

He also made it sure that he would not attend the council’s regular session for some time, saying, “A meaningful agreement also could be made through under-the-table negotiations.”

The recent feud traces back to last year when members from the main opposition Democratic Party took the control of the city council in the June election.

The city council failed to approve the city’s major budget plans while allocating 69.5 billion won ($62 million) for free school meals that have been facing fierce opposition from the ruling Grand National Party and the mayor.

Oh, in particular, has criticized free school meals for being based on a populist idea, claiming extending support only to poor students would be the correct decision.

Under the current law, the reduced budget by the city council is not allowed to be filled up from reserve fund. However, city officials said they considered the situation to be urgent for citizens’ convenience, which is likely to cause legal controversies in the coming months.

Meanwhile, a group of conservative civic groups started a signature-gathering campaign last week, aimed at having a plebiscite vote on the free school meal issue.

In the coming 180 days, they will collect signatures from citizens. If the campaign is supported by more than 5 percent of Seoul voters, or 418,000 citizens, the city can hold the vote without the city council’s approval.

By Lee Ji-yoon (