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A moral monopoly of expressions

Feb 27,2020
KIM BANG-HYUN
The author is the Daejeon bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The Moon Jae-in administration’s “long-cherished wish” to change the mainstream group in our society is in progress from the power elite to organizations at the bottom. The resident associations for autonomy in small units of local governments across the country can be considered the bottom. The resident associations are created by disbanding the old resident committees. The justification is to expand grassroots, direct democracy and vitalize resident autonomy. The number of members has expanded from 20 to 50, with many new faces. The government’s goal is to increase local resident associations to more than 600.

But I am doubtful of whether resident associations are working according to the purpose of vitalizing autonomy, especially when I look at the local governments of Daejeon and Seoul. First, there is the risk of wasting tax money. The city of Daejeon spends 1.58 billion won ($1.3 million) to operate resident associations in 21 neighborhoods this year for labor, operation and projects. This includes 40 million won salaries for the autonomy support officers. Daedeok District of the city pays these officers from its own budget.

The support officers help connect civilian groups and the government. The government says it is an intermediary organization between administrators and residents. But I don’t understand what it means. Residents say that the autonomy support officers are just wasting people’s tax money. Some resident association heads resigned after discord with officers.

Many officers are from civic groups. Education for the resident association members is handled by civic groups. As a result, some people point out that the resident associations have become a tool for creating jobs for civic groups. They also claim that they are similar to the communal councils created by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez to organize his support groups. The city of Seoul plans to hire autonomy support officers in all 424 neighborhoods by 2022.

I feel that the autonomy activities have regressed. Past resident autonomy committee members collected money for volunteer work or local festivals. They were purely autonomous activities. Meanwhile, the resident autonomy associations get a budget and focus on neighborhood projects, such as creating walking trails. While these efforts are needed, I feel that they are looking for ways to spend tax money. The function of the resident association also clashes with the representative body of local councils.

With the power of citizens, the Moon Jae-in administration has had an exclusive use of all the good phrases until now — such as democratic citizenship education and candlelight revolution. It is a moral monopoly of expressions. There have been many expressions that lacked content or were false. The resident autonomy association advocating “realization of democracy in daily lives” is going in the wrong direction.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 25, Page 27