In June, the police forcibly removed camps of elderly locals in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province, who were involved in a long-term protest against the construction of a high-voltage power line in the region.
The project, which is to deliver 765,000 volts of electricity from two nuclear power plants in Ulsan to an electrical substation in Changnyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, has been fiercely protested against by the locals since the government approved it in 2007.
The conflict between the government and the residents ― who believe the towers will cause serious health issues including cancer ― resulted in two Miryang citizens committing suicide and a handful of violent clashes between the two parties, which involved throwing manure and a nude protest.
The Miryang case is one of many in which the government has failed to cope with public opposition in a democratic way, and the authorities should follow the order of “announce, discuss, then decide” instead of “decide, announce and defend” when making public decisions, experts said in a scholarly forum in Seoul on Wednesday.
“Our government’s way of pursuing public projects (which follows the order of ‘decide, announce and defend’) creates public conflicts that are hard to solve. And these conflicts cost a lot of money, as they slow down the whole project,” said professor Kang Young-jin of Sungkyunkwan University at the forum hosted by the Happy World Foundation.
According to Kang, an average 69.6 government projects a year have been controversial with the public since 2003.
Examples include the Miryang case and the Korea Racing Authority’s controversial off-track horseracing betting center that recently opened near Yongsan Electronics Market in Seoul, despite the prolonged public opposition.
Some 50,000 residents of Yongsan earlier this month signed a letter of protest asking Cheong Wa Dae to relocate the property ― arguing that the facility may have a negative influence on the schoolchildren in the area.
According to professor Kang, it takes 4.3 years on average for such public projects to successfully cope with public opposition.
“The government should change, and should have been changed (a long time ago),” said professor Kim Kwang-goo from Kyung Hee University’s department of administration.
“They should inform the public and ask them for their opinions before they make their decisions, and their decisions must reflect the public opinion. They should stop making decisions first and persuading the public later. It should be the other way around.”
Last year, South Korea’s social conflict was rated second-most serious among the OECD countries, following Turkey. A study by Samsung Economic Research Institute last year found that the conflicts cost the country 246 trillion won ($237 billion) each year.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)