Press conference held by Seoul Mayor Park Won Soon
celebrating the second year of his second term (2014-2018)
Time really flies. It has already been a year since the start of my second term as Seoul Mayor. My second term as Seoul Mayor (the 6th term of a directly elected Seoul Mayor) began with a strong focus on the safety of the people, following the tragic sinking of the Sewol. In my inaugural address, I stated that “the reason for the existence of the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the country is to free people from worries about their life and safety, so that they can pursue their hopes and dreams.”
A year later, we once again find ourselves facing yet another difficult situation: the outbreak of the MERS virus. We now live under the constant worry of MERS—a worry that severely limits our activities and affects the very way in which we live our lives. The current MERS situation leaves me even more convinced that the very reason for the existence of the Seoul Metropolitan Government is to protect the people and their way of life: this needs to be the most important value and priority of the municipal administration of the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
Forty-two days have passed since the occurrence of the first MERS patient in the country. Over the past 42 days, we at the Seoul Metropolitan Government, in collaboration with autonomous districts nationwide and the medical community, have strategized and fought against MERS as if we were in an active state of war. As a result, MERS has been relatively contained. We at the Seoul Metropolitan Government pledge to continue working with the central government to implement all necessary measures until the disease is completely eradicated.
MERS has caused the suffering of many people. I would like to express my sincere condolences to the victims of MERS and their families as well as MERS-infected patients and their families. For those who are still battling the virus, we wish for your speedy recovery. I would also like to remember and thank all those who have worked tirelessly to fight the disease: doctors and nurses, employees of public health centers, members of 119 rescue teams, and other esteemed members of the medical community. I, on behalf of the city of Seoul, would like to extend my deepest thanks to all of you. You are our true heroes and heroines. I also would like to thank the Seoul City officials who spent many sleepless nights working at the Anti-MERS Headquarters.
We should never forget the lessons taught to us by this recent MERS outbreak. In particular, the necessity for a complete reform of the health/medical sector and the need for an effective epidemic control system. In the wake of the MERS outbreak, we at the Seoul Metropolitan Government will be making bold reforms to improve municipal medical services within our jurisdiction. We will seek to publicly announce these key reforms as they are passed.
MERS has left deep scars on the hearts, minds, and businesses of the people. The country’s tourism industry was dealt a hard blow due to MERS, and small businesses and store owners in traditional markets are suffering now more than ever. Hospitals and clinics are also experiencing a number of difficulties due to the outbreak of MERS. What makes all these challenges seem even more insurmountable are the large number of unemployed young people, the increase of household debts, the slowdown of economic growth, and other economic factors.
Protecting the people’s livelihood and their way of life is one of the most important duties of the local government. We at the Seoul Metropolitan Government promise to put forth our utmost efforts to heal the scars left by MERS by enriching the lives of the people and revitalizing the economy. We will spare no effort for the betterment of the economy and the daily lives of citizens. From this point forward, the first, second, and third priority of the Seoul Metropolitan Government will be improving the economy.
There is a time for everything. Even the best medicine can be rendered useless if administered at the wrong time. A crisis can be an opportunity. We at the Seoul Metropolitan Government will continue to mobilize all available human resources and funds to breathe new life into the lives of the citizens and address the negative effects of the MERS outbreak.
First of all, we must address the most obvious effects of the MERS virus. Hospitals and pharmacies are among those that were most directly affected by the MERS virus and should be compensated and supported accordingly. Due to the large scale of the need in this sector, these medical facilities will also need to receive support from the central government.
Small businesses were also dealt a severe blow by the outbreak of MERS. When the MERS outbreak reached its peak,I saw the entire commercial district near a hospital in Gangdong-gu become a ghost town. Though consumption may increase as the threat of MERS decreases, concerted efforts are needed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to stimulate the economy.
When the economy worsens, the people who suffer the most are the citizens themselves. . I feel a deep sense of grief and sadness when I think about the hardships endured by the people of Seoul. This is a grief that is shared by everyone at the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and this grief is part of what fuels my iron-clad resolve to work even harder to help enrich the lives of citizens and create more jobs.
The creation of jobs has been a priority at the Seoul Metropolitan Government even before the MERS outbreak. Under the Long March for the Creation of Jobs, a program soon to be launched, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will be using its resources for the creation of jobs in all sectors— the industrial sector, tourism, culture, urban regeneration, the private sector, social economy, and more.
The most pressing need in the wake of the MERS outbreak is to bring foreign tourists back to the city. By the end of June, the number of foreign visitors who had cancelled their plans to visit Seoul due to the MERS virus stood at a whopping 140,000 people, which translates into a loss of more than KRW 120 billion in tourism revenue. Seoul has topped the list of good business convention destinations for three years in a row; it has been named one of the top-5 tourism convention cities for three years in a row; and is No.4 on the list of global MICE (Meeting, Incentive Tour, Convention, and Exhibition/Event) cities. Now is the time to restore Seoul to its former glory as a prime tourist destination.
In order to overcome this current tourism crisis, we at the Seoul Metropolitan Government will join forces with hotels, restaurants, shops, tour operators, and other key players in the tourism industry to draw foreign tourists back to the city. Through strategic cooperation between the Seoul Metropolitan Government and those in the tourism industry, Seoul will soon regain its reputation as a world-class tourism/business city. We will continue our efforts until we achieve our goal of steadily attracting 20 million tourists a year to Seoul. Attracting an increased number of foreigner tourists each year and supporting the tourism/service industry as an engine of growth will lead to the creation of as many as 420,000 new jobs and an added value of KRW 22 trillion a year.
In order to reach this target, it is important to capitalize on the summer holidays and the Chuseok holiday season. In order to do so, we at the Seoul Metropolitan Government have allotted KRW 10 billion to create a large-scale ad campaign targeting would-be visitors in China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia Though these are our main demographics, we will be carrying out PR and marketing efforts targeting other major overseas markets. If necessary, I will also visit major cities in those countries to hold special events for local promotion. Our plan includes offering familiarization tours of the city to influential mass media in foreign countries.
In order to restore Seoul to its former glory as a top tourism destination, revitalize the economy, and to reach our target of attracting 20 million tourists a year, I would even go so far as to act as a tourist guide myself if necessary!
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is dedicated to enriching the lives of the people and revitalizing the tourism industry and the economy as a whole. Towards this end, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has allotted KRW 200 billion to small businesses to help them get back on their feet; to date, about 5,500 small businesses have applied for these funds (KRW 158.2 billion).
We at the Seoul Metropolitan Government pledge to use all means necessary to improve the economy of households in Seoul, even if it means going into debt. Since my inauguration as the Mayor of Seoul, we have reduced our debt by KRW 7.5 trillion, often by cutting the operational expenses of the Seoul Metropolitan Government itself. Though this reduction of debt under my stewardship has served the city well, now is the time to invest funds in the good of the people, to improve the quality of life of the average citizen. Currently, we at the Seoul Metropolitan Government are considering drawing up a supplementary budget amounting to KRW 500 billion, which may be made possible in part by short-term loans. It is our belief that investing this supplementary budget in well-thought-out programs and policies will ensure the livelihood and improve the economy of everyone in Seoul.
Last year in the wake of the tragic sinking of the Sewol, I met with many local residents in an effort to hear their thoughts on key issues. At times, I even traded in my formal attire for sneakers and a backpack so that I would be more approachable and be able to have open, honest discussion with citizens. When the MERS outbreak was in full force, I once again hit the streets to talk with the average citizen and learn more about what was really going on in the hearts and minds of the people.
For four days from June 25 to June 29, I walked the streets of Seoul for hours in an effort to learn more about the MERS situation. Hospitals directly affected by MERS were like ghost towns. People formed long lines at Credit Guarantee offices, and traditional markets were quiet and still. Streets in Myeong-dong and Insa-dong, which are usually teeming with people, were deserted.
During my 4-day tour of the city, I met with many citizens and asked them what I could do to ease the ill effects of MERS and restore hope to the city. People I met suggested the following:
We at the Seoul Metropolitan Government have listened to the people and have used each of these suggestions to form our policies. The solutions to the problems we face as a city do not come from some high and lofty place far away; they come from the people of the city themselves. The answers to even the biggest problems can come from the smallest of places. That is why I believe that the “average citizen” is anything but average; each citizen is the biggest, most important resource we have as a city. It is with this belief that I pledge to always listen to the average citizen, to go onsite and walk hand-in-hand with the people, and to work alongside the people to find ways to enrich the lives of Seoul citizens, revitalize the economy, and create jobs. This is my pledge to you for the remainder of my term as Seoul Mayor.
As I go into the second year of my second term as Mayor, I will continue to walk alongside, hand-in-hand with the people of Seoul, working together to build a better future. I have always thought of the people of Seoul as the city’s true mayors. The best way to empower people to live up to this ideal is by ensuring their happiness and safety and enriching their daily lives. This is the path to a new Seoul.
I will not waver in my resolve to help the people. No matter what obstacle I face, I will continue to be steadfast in my pursuit of the safety and happiness of each and every citizen of Seoul. It is with this strong heart for the people that I will continue to lead the municipal administration of the Seoul Metropolitan Government to create a city in which we can all share, dream, and live together. Thank you.