The first Seoul City Council International Conference
Venue: Seoul City Hall
Korean National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa, Chairman Park Nea-hak and other members of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, Vice President Ulrich Karpen of the International Association of Legislation, Ms. Martha Choe, former member of the Seattle City Council, and the other legislative officials from Ankara, Beijing, Bangkok, Ulan Bator, Hanoi, and Korea,
Here are my words of welcome and gratitude to every one of you on behalf of the people of Seoul.
I would like to congratulate everyone on the first Seoul City Council International Conference held to discuss the role of local governments in upgrading financial soundness from the bottom of my heart.
The relationship between the local government and the local council is often compared to the wheels of a carriage. The government and the council are both indispensable for local residents and need to collaborate with each other. As the role of local governments grows larger in close connectivity with the life of locals, so the role of local councils becomes very important.
Local autonomy in South Korea was reinstituted in 1991 after 30 years of interval, and this year marks the 24th anniversary of that reinstitution. A 24-year-old person will be at the stage of making preparations for independence from their parents. Realistically, local governments in this country depend heavily on the central government and they are under many regulations enacted by the central government.
In particular, local governments in South Korea are in a very difficult financial situation. The trend shows a gradual decrease in the level of their financial independence, while the budget amount they need to spend on welfare, safety, and other necessary items is increasing by a wide margin every year. Some people view this as the crisis of local financial situations. The fundamental cause of the situation lies in the country’s taxation system, which is heavily dependent on national taxes. The ratio between national taxes and local taxes comes to 8:2, while the ratio of expenditures between the central government and local governments stand at 4:6. Under such a structure, local governments must depend on the central government to secure the funds they require. Local governments will be able to provide satisfactory administrative services to locals when the ratio between national taxes and local taxes is readjusted to something like 6 to 4, as it is in other OECD countries.
Local governments in many other countries experience financial crises in the midst of sluggish economies and increases in welfare expenditures. Some local governments even go bankrupt. The problem of local governments’ financial soundness is one faced commonly by many countries. I sincerely hope that you will come up with diverse methods of overcoming local governments’ financial difficulties at today’s meeting.
Seoul has become a world-famous tourist destination, attracting more than ten million people per year.
There are many beautiful places to visit near Seoul City Hall. These include Gyeongbokgung Palace dating from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), Bukchon Hanok (traditional Korean houses) Village, and Seochon, where you can feel the unique atmosphere of traditional back alleys. We at the SMG strive to explore stories contained in each of these places in order to share them with visitors. I highly recommend that you find some extra time in your tight schedule to visit these places. They will surely remain in your memories for a long time.
Finally, I would like to congratulate everyone for this event, the first of its kind held by the Seoul Metropolitan Council again. I will be looking forward to seeing international exchanges like this often for discussion of the problems associated with the financial difficulties of local governments, as well as other ways of collaborating among cities all over the world.