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Prime minister out of sight in Sejong

Prime minister out of sight in Sejong

Chung and other senior officials struggle with commute between Seoul, Sejong

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Published : 2013-12-13 20:27
Updated : 2013-12-13 20:27

Commuting between Seoul and the new administrative city of Sejong is turning out to be a much more difficult task for Prime Minister Chung Hong-won than initially expected.

The prime minister, who took office in February, was given an official residence in Sejong as a means of reducing the amount of time spent in long commutes.

However, one cannot say that he has led a “dual life” of managing national affairs and policies both in Seoul and Sejong, as he has rarely stayed in the new city since his appointment.

Like many other high- and mid-level government employees, Chung mostly finds himself in Seoul attending major events, assisting President Park Geun-hye and coordinating policies with National Assembly lawmakers.

“What’s largely to blame is that most government events are held in Seoul, including weekly Cabinet meetings and other parliamentary duties,” Sung Soo-young, an official at the Prime Minister’s Office, told The Korea Herald.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won in Seoul hosts a monthly video conference with employees at the Prime Minister’s Office in Sejong City in September. (PMO)
In October, for instance, Chung was mostly in the capital answering calls to lawmakers regarding the government’s welfare policy, and assuming the role of the head of state when President Park was away for Southeast Asian summits.

The prime minister also remained out of sight in Sejong in November, except on Nov. 27 when he hosted an event marking the development of the city.

Because of his busy schedule in Seoul and overseas, he has only been able to visit Sejong twice since October.

Chung said that he was trying his best to spend time in Sejong. But an increase in his number of appearances seems unlikely.

Most participants in government events and meetings are reluctant to travel about two hours by public transit to the new city.

“A two-hour drive between the two cities remains the biggest problem for all of us,” an official at the Ministry of Environment said.

The official added that having a job in Sejong and a life in Seoul is making it “physically impossible” for not only the prime minister but also other ministers to efficiently manage their work-life balance.

Chung’s sporadic presence in Sejong has drawn criticism from lawmakers, who say that the prime minister should show a commitment to the new city by relocating and living there.

“His visiting only once or twice is making it hard to efficiently run the Prime Minister’s Office and other ministries in Sejong,” Lee Hae-chan, former chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party, said in October.

Although President Park plans to hold Cabinet meetings via video conferencing next year, further inefficiencies are expected once more ministries relocate to the city.

Policymakers will still have to travel to Seoul for meetings with National Assembly lawmakers and the president’s chief advisers, political analysts said.

There are currently five ministries in Sejong, including the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Fair Trade Commission, as well as six state agencies.

Five more ministries, including the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, will relocate to the administrative city by the end of this month.

By Suk Gee-hyun (monicasuk@heraldcorp.com)

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