The government and the ruling Grand National Party are at odds over the location of the planned International Science and Business Belt. The discord is not only creating a new fault line within the ruling camp but fueling friction among local governments keen to host the 3.5 trillion won science hub.
The belt is one of the campaign pledges of President Lee Myung-bak. He promised to build the science belt in South Chungcheong Province. The seed of discord was sown when Lee unsuccessfully sought last year to alter the preceding Roh Moo-hyun government’s plan for Sejong City. To turn the administrative town into a self-sufficient science and technology city, Lee offered to build the science belt in Sejong City. But Lee suffered a setback as his plan was voted down at the National Assembly.
Following the Sejong debacle, the government drafted a bill on the construction of the ISBB, without specifying its location. The underlying perception was that Lee’s campaign promise to create the belt in South Chungcheong Province was no longer valid with the parliamentary rejection of his bid to make the Sejong City a science-technology center. The bill passed the National Assembly late last month.
Earlier this month, a presidential aide on science said the government would select its site for the ISBB from among candidate areas across the nation. His remark delighted other local governments, but stirred up anger among South Chungcheong people who felt betrayed by the Lee government.
The administration’s stance on the belt has also annoyed GNP lawmakers as South Chungcheong voters’ resentment could lead to a debacle in the next general and presidential elections.
The government says the ISBB location will be resolved in compliance with the procedure set out in the law. To avoid unnecessary confusion and conflict, however, it needs to make a decision promptly. In doing so, it should not forget that a government loses public confidence when it fails to deliver on its promises.