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[Editorial] Be consistent

Seoul mayor’s policy flip-flop puts blameless citizens through trouble

Some policies pushed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government are causing controversy and confusion.

That is because they were announced abruptly without gathering sufficient public opinions and consulting related ministries beforehand.

A project to redesign Gwanghwamun Square is a case in point.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon unveiled a plan last week to reconstruct the symbolic area.

But the project faced a strong backlash. Park and Minister of the Interior and Safety Kim Boo-kyum clashed over it.

The project, among other things, calls for dismantling four buildings at the Seoul Government Complex and merging its parking lot and access road to the square to make way for a new “history plaza.”

Minister Kim called the plan unacceptable, saying the expansion of the square would make it difficult to run the complex.

Their clash stems from Seoul city government’s insufficient prior coordination with the ministry.

The same is true of a plan to build a new high-speed train station in the square. It was part of the project, but Seoul announced it even though it had not completed discussions of related costs with the Ministry of Land and Transportation.

The ministry said it would not review the project at all unless Seoul bore all of the costs related to the station construction. The ministry did not oppose the project itself, but put a quick brake on it.

It is beyond comprehension why Park rushed to announce the project without sufficient consultations.

According to the proposed blueprint of the new Gwanghwamun Square, the statues of King Sejong the Great and Adm. Yi Sun-sin will be relocated.

Nearer Gyongbok Palace, a history plaza will feature memorials of historic civic movements, including the recent candlelight revolution which led to the election of President Moon Jae-in and the inauguration of his government.

This caused controversies and faced strong opposition. Opponents said public opinions on the relocation of the iconic statues were not gathered and that the square was not just for the current government.

With criticism mounting, Park stepped back, saying his government will canvass opinions then decide if they will be relocated.

There is another case showing Park’s somewhat impromptu policy making: An ongoing project to renovate the Sewoon Arcade and its vicinity. This is a large-scale inner-city redevelopment project.

A section of the project area was to be demolished when the municipal government reveresed its position.

Recently news reports that old stores and restaurants there were at the risk of being forced out due to the project received attention.

In response to public outcry, Park said he would reconsider whether they should be preserved. Renovation work for the section has been suspended till the end of this year.

Developers and other landowners protested the sudden change strongly.

The project had been approved by Seoul Metropolitan Government and was being carried out as planned. Then, it was suspended abruptly while demolition and land compensation was underway. It is only fair for them to oppose the quick brake on the project.

Major redevelopment projects must not be implemented this way.

The old restaurants and stores have existed there for a long time. Nonetheless, Seoul decided to redevelop the decrepit arcade and its surrounding area including the section in question. So why did it raise issue about them now?

Other landowners involved in the project have been waiting for it to be completed. Is it OK to ignore their losses?

Last summer, Park announced his government would develop the entire areas of Yongsan and Yeouido -- without consulting the Land Ministry.

The plan came under fire, with criticism that it was adding fuel to Seoul’s housing inflation. About a month later, he put the plan on hold.

Last January, he vowed to reduce fine dust in the atmosphere and made public transportation in Seoul free.

This cost the city government 15 billion won ($13.4 million) in taxes. Park rolled it back two days after enforcing it. It barely dented fine dust levels. It only wasted taxes.

Taxes are paid out of what the public earns through hard work. These citizens are not guinea pigs for half-baked government experiments.

Park is the first Seoul mayor to have been elected three straight times, and has served as Seoul mayor for nine years now. Policy-making prudence and stability should be expected from his long experience as mayor, but his policies have fallen short of those expectations.

The last thing public administrators should do is make impromptu policy announcements, only to abruptly change them later.