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Incompetent public administration

June 18,2019
Korea’s top internet giant Naver decided to fold its plan to build a data center in Yongin at a cost of 480 billion won ($404 million). The project has been stalled since the announcement in 2017 because of protests by residents who are anxious about radiation emissions from the mega-scaled data center and power transmission towers, as well as pollutants from operation of diesel generators.

Residents have the right to oppose an industrial facility in their neighborhoods out of concern for their health, the environment and asset values. Yet a data center hardly fits into the usual hazardous facility category. A study showed that the level of electromagnetic radiation from a data center is lower than measurements from inside a family home.

The local government and politicians have worsened the matter by addressing the project in a political context. The data center project had been led by the former Yongin mayor. Under a new mayor, the city administration refused to interfere to mediate on a “corporate issue.” Representatives from the city and councilmen also joined in the citizen protest in consideration of votes and kicked out a lucrative business that could have generated handsome corporate tax revenue for the city.

Ride-sharing and future mobility cannot take off in Korea because the government cannot referee in the conflict between new and traditional industries. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has been impotent in untangling the complicated web of conflict of interests, while the National Assembly has been neglecting its lawmaking duty because of political wrangling. As a result, Korea is falling behind in the future mobility race.

Steelmakers have been dumbfounded by an unprecedented administrative order to shut down their blast furnaces for opening bleeding valves to let out the gas during routine maintenance period. The Environment Ministry and local governments have been readdressing the decision after they drew harsh criticism for interrupting steelmaking activities for a common practice in the industry, but have been slow in coming to a consensus. The ministry said it will invite private experts and form a council in the locations, but companies are at a loss on whether they are able to keep the furnaces on during the reinvestigation period.

The central and local governments have the duty to mediate differences in the private realm and ensure a fair playing field. Their presence would have no meaning if they neglect their role in fear of irking concerned parties. Fewer foreign companies are coming to Korea, whereas more Korean companies are leaving the country. Korea may be losing investment appeal because of incompetence in public administration.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 17, Page 30