Now is the Time to Focus on Welfare and the Economy
Press conference statements on the first inauguration anniversary of the 6th administration elected by popular vote
Date July 1st 2015 | Venue Briefing room of the Seoul Metropolitan Government
First of all, I would like to thank the citizens of Seoul for their efforts in overcoming the MERS Crisis. It has already been a year since I started my 6th term as the directly elected Mayor of Seoul. Following the tragic sinking of the Sewol, we took on citizens’ safety as the central theme of our administration. In my inauguration address in front of citizens, I proclaimed that, “The reason our city, Seoul, and our country exist is to help our citizens pursue their dreams and hopes without concerns about their safety and lives.”
A year later, we are now facing another difficult situation: the outbreak of a new disease, MERS. This year, we marked the first anniversary of the administration in the midst of unrest arising from the outbreak of the disease, in addition to financial difficulties. Once again, I swore to myself that protecting and safeguarding the lives of citizens would be the highest value, principle, and standard of our administration; indeed, these are the only reasons for the existence of the SMG.
It has now been 42 days since MERS broke out. Over the past 42 days, the SMG has been fighting against the disease, fully armed as if we were in a quasi-state of war. The SMG, in conjunction with autonomous districts and the medical community, have done everything possible to stop the spread of the virus. As a result, the impact of MERS has been diminishing in recent days. However, the SMG will remain alert and continue working together with the central government to thoroughly supervise and respond properly until the virus is completely eradicated. A great deal of people have suffered from the outbreak of the disease. I would like to offer words of consolation to the victims of the virus, the infected individuals, and all of their families. I would like to sincerely wish them a speedy and safe recovery.
Above all, there are some who must not be forgotten. They are the medical teams of hospitals, employees of public health centers, and 119 rescue teams who fought against the disease on the front lines. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all of you. You are the true heroes of our city. You are devoting your lives to our community and putting yourselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. In addition, I truly appreciate all the SMG officials who have been spending sleepless nights working silently at the control room of the MERS Disease Relief Headquarters. We should never forget the lessons taught to us by this recent MERS outbreak. In particular, overall reforms of health and medical treatments and epidemic control systems are urgently needed. The SMG will make bold reforms in the public medical sector under our jurisdiction. Detailed plans will be publicly announced as soon as they are prepared.
We will take the lead in improving the welfare of citizens using all possible resources and funds. MERS has left deep scars on people’s lives. However, another MERS now stands in our midst: the serious welfare crisis. We are now facing rampant youth unemployment, suffocating household debt, an unchanging stagnant economic growth rate, and a dying driving force. How is that not a second MERS?
Protecting citizens’ livelihood is as important to us as protecting their lives. From now on, our complete focus will be on healing the deep scars caused by MERS, revitalizing people’s livelihood and economic abilities. The SMG will spare no efforts to improve the welfare and the economy in general through preemptive and proactive responses at full strength. The first, second and third priority of our administration will be improving the economy.
I believe that there is a right time for everything. Even the best medicine might be useless if it is administered at the wrong time. Therefore, carrying out the right measure at the right time is crucial. A crisis can be an opportunity. The SMG will mobilize all our available policies, organizations, funds, and anything else we can accomplish to alleviate the aftermath of MERS and improve the welfare of our citizens.
First, we need to settle the damages caused by MERS, compensate for losses, and recover the economy. Hospitals and pharmacies are among those that were most directly affected by the outbreak of the virus, and will have to be given compensation and constant support accordingly. I would like to sincerely ask the central government to decide on the proper policy direction and measures to help them. The virus also dealt a severe blow to small businesses. I found that the entire commercial district nearby a hospital in Gangdong-gu, which was severely affected by the virus, was thoroughly depressed. The SMG will take all possible steps to revitalize such commercial areas.
When the economy worsens, working class people are the ones who suffer the most. I feel a deep sense of sadness and grief when I think about the pain people have experienced. The SMG will make the utmost efforts to stabilize people’s livelihoods, creating more jobs preemptively, intensively and consistently. Job creation has already been a priority of this administration long before the MERS crisis. The Long Term Plan for the Creation of Jobs will be launched in the coming days, and we will use all of our resources to address structural problems of job creation in the private sector by expanding them to all sectors: economy, industry, tourism, culture, urban regeneration, private investment, and social economy.
We will work towards the goal of attracting 20 million tourists. What we urgently need to do at the moment is to bring foreign tourists back to the city. By the end of June, the number of foreign visitors who cancelled their trips to Seoul in the wake of the virus reached a whopping 140,000 people, which will lead to a loss of 120 billion won in tourism revenue. Seoul has topped the list of ideal business convention destinations for three consecutive years, has been one of the top 5 tourism convention cities for three years in a row, and was named as the 4th extraordinary global city.
To overcome the tourism crisis, the SMG will work together with hotels, restaurants, shops, and other key players of the tourism industry to bring foreign tourists back to our city. We will regain our reputation as a world class city for tourism and business. Furthermore, we will continue to work restlessly to achieve the goal of attracting 20 million tourists. When we reach that goal, the tourism industry will be a source of significant economic benefits, creating 42,000 new jobs and an added value worth 22 trillion won.
To do this, it is important to capitalize on increases in demand during the summer holidays and the Chuseok holiday season. The SMG is currently arranging large-scale media advertisement campaigns in China, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. We will intensively invest 10 billion won into overseas marketing and expand our marketing efforts targeting other major foreign markets. I will also visit Southeast Asia and China to hold local promotion talks and special events. Our plan includes offering familiarization tours of Seoul to influential mass media outlets in foreign countries. I would be happy to serve as a tour guide to regain our reputation as a global tourism destination, and to achieve the goal of 20 million tourists, a goal that will lead to economic recovery.
We will fully devote ourselves to economic recovery, even if that means we have to expand the budget. We pledge to use all means necessary to improve the welfare of our citizens and the economy in general, as well as to revitalize the tourism industry. Since June 10, the SMG has allotted 200 billion won to small businesses to help them get back on their feet, and about 5,500 small businesses have applied for these funds (a total of KRW 158.2 billion). However, this alone is not enough to reinvigorate the local economy.
The SMG therefore intends to revive the livelihood of citizens as well as the wider economy despite the painful fiscal conditions afflicting Seoul. Since my inauguration, the SMG has reduced the debt by 7.5 trillion won by cutting unnecessary expenses. Now, it is time for us to invest that money into the good of the people and the improvement of their quality of life. We will have to bring a supplementary budget to improve the lives of ordinary people. Currently, the SMG is considering the creation of a supplementary budget worth 500 billion won, some of which will be raised through a short-term loan. I believe that these funds will be a great help towards our endeavors to stabilize the public welfare and turn the economy around.
We will find answers through close communication with citizens. A year ago, as the mayor, I hit the street to get closer to the citizens and heal the scars left by the Sewol disaster, hoping to open a new dawn in the city of Seoul. During that time, I sought a way toward improving the public welfare and our future as a city, wearing running shoes and carrying a backpack. Recently I made the decision to once again like to leap into the lives of citizens to rebuild the city and to better understand the people after the MERS crisis.
For four days, from June 25 to June 29, I walked the street, meeting more people. Hospitals were still shut down and people formed long lines at Credit Guarantee offices. Traditional markets were quiet, and streets in Myeong-dong and Insa-dong, usually teeming with people, were deserted. For four days I spent all my time on the street, meeting people and hearing their voices, and finally I found an answer. Citizens’ suggestions were the key to overcoming the MERS disaster and formulating new visions for the future: adequate compensation should be made, considering the huge loss to hospitals and medical centers; performances and concerts should be held at commercial buildings and shopping centers to bring crowds; parking crackdowns should be avoided during lunch time to revive small businesses; performances should be held at Seoul Square every night to transform it into a tourist attraction; Korea should be marketed as a more attractive tourist destination among Chinese people rather than Japanese; the mayor should visit Chinese cities to promote tourism marketing; and low-interest business funds should be made readily available.
These invaluable requests and suggestions have now become the official policies of the SMG, and we are currently using them to formulate our policies. Likewise, the solutions to the problems we were seeking were not somewhere far away or in lofty places. They came from the lowest and the smallest places where there are average people, living their lives and contributing to the public welfare. I believe these are the highest and the greatest places. We will enhance the lives of Seoul citizens and seek a motivational force for economic growth and jobs. I promise that I will always be with you, my citizens.
Standing nearest to people, I will continue to work hard to address the most practical issues in our daily lives and move forward towards a brighter future along with the citizens of Seoul. It is my belief that I, as a mayor, need to put my policy direction, ‘Citizens are mayors’ into action while doing more to safeguard peoples’ lives and safety, which are fundamental human rights, and to make them feel happier. This is the new path the SMG will embrace. I will take a firm stand on my path. No matter what obstacle I face, I will continue to pursue my goal of safety and happiness for each and every citizen of Seoul. I will continue to take the lead to create a city where we can dream, live, and share together. Thank you.