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Improving the Capacity of Local Autonomy of Seoul Metropolitan Government Through Comparison with Advanced Mega-Cities Abroad

Hee-Yun JungㆍJung-Min Shin


Compare to other local governments, Seoul has very different situations. It plays leading roles as a Capital city with dominant socioeconomic positions in Korea. It is the hub of business and government agencies. It is also a mega city with over 10 million residents. Thus, it is inevitable for Seoul to prepare its own decentralization strategies matching its rival mega-cities abroad with competitive position. The purpose of this research is to lay out a logical basis to strengthen the capacity of local autonomy of Seoul through comparison with rival foreign mega-cities and suggest decentralization strategies and policy measures in the perspective of Seoul. This research proceeds a comparative analysis with advanced mega-cities abroad, focusing on specific issues in five domains of local autonomy: legislative power, organization authority, financial right, redistribution of government affairs, and government relations. Although many comparative studies concerning local autonomy are available, most studies are proceeded at national level. While some comparative studies of local autonomy at city level also exist, they do not properly address specific issues of Seoul by these five domains of local autonomy. In this study, Tokyo in Japan, New York in USA, London in UK, and Paris in France were selected as comparable mega-cities with Seoul. The comparative analysis with these four advanced mega-cities abroad focuses on specific issues by the five domains of local authority that Seoul Metropolitan Government has experienced as main obstacles or limiting factors of local autonomy so far. Major findings of this comparative analysis are as follows.

The most important policy implication out of this comparative analysis is that the four advanced mega-cities abroad have proper institutional frameworks of local autonomy to reflect their particular local characters in individual mega-city context. London and New York have their own individual local authority law reflecting their particular local conditions such as the Law of Greater London Authority and New York City Charter. France and Japan also have significant authority of local autonomy through specifying clear statements in their Constitutions such as the subsidiarity principle. Of course, their achievements in their local autonomy are also outcomes of fierce rivalry among many related stake holders in a lengthy period rather than voluntary motivations of the central government.

Major policy issues for Seoul to improve its capacity of local autonomy compared to advanced mega-cities abroad can be summarized as follows. First, drastic adjustments of delegated affairs form central government and strengthening integrated administrative functions of Seoul as a mega-city need to be considered seriously. Second, Seoul needs to prepare practical programs and institutional frameworks concerning governance between central-local government as true sense of communication channels rather than as cursory government relations. Third, Seoul needs to set up ties with other local governments and play a leading role in the revision of the Constitution for the decentralized national governance system. Specific policy proposals to improve the capacity of local autonomy of Seoul ties with other local governments are as follows. First, it is important for local governments to allow creative policy initiatives through an application of exception rules beyond the existing legal system with some conditions if necessary for the purpose of public interests. This proposal is especially important for Seoul which has many experiences in the nation’s first attempts at policy. For this purpose, institutional experiment clauses in the Constitution of France are worthwhile to review as a good example. Second, proper adjustments of delegated affairs from central governments and strengthening integrated administrative functions as the mega-city can push ahead the decentralization strategy. Third, local government-led policy evaluation committee needs to be established to figure out local impacts in the transfer process of central government powers such as manpower, organization, finance, and redistribution of central government affairs. Fourth, institutional frameworks of local autonomy impact assessments that require mandatory participations and consultations of related local governments need to be set up for legislation or revision of local autonomy related laws in the national assembly.

Seoul metropolitan government by itself also needs to transfer administrative works related daily life to Seoul metropolitan districts while strengthening integrated administrative functions of Seoul. On the other hand, Seoul needs to consider a horizontal financial transfer system such as expanding the share of ‘The Balanced Regional Development Fund’ to form social consensus for more independent local public finance. In order to reinforce integrated administrative functions of Seoul metropolitan area, ground-breaking institutional formations of the regional consultative body for the Capital region are also required.

Major tasks that Seoul as a mega city should promote by its own decentralization strategy are as follows:

Administrative organizations, personal affairs, and government affairs of a mega-city with over 100 million residents and the Capital city of Seoul are drastically different from other local governments by nature. Thus, it is inevitable for Seoul to consider its own decentralization strategy reflecting particular conditions for these matters. Expansion and reorganization of ‘Seoul Special Administration Law’ which has no meaning today can be considered as one of policy tools. However, related clauses in Local Government Law and Local Public Service Law of the central government need to be revised in advance in the current legal system. At the same time, Seoul needs to prepare its own clear policy measures concerning organizations, public officials, and administrative affairs. It also needs to figure out how to install its policy measures in local ordinance of Seoul. Seoul also needs to suggest its own self-regulating responsibility according to expanding autonomous authorities concerning organizations, public officials, and administrative affairs in order to convince the central government and form a bond of sympathy with other local governments. Expanding citizen’s right of selection such as resident voting system of opinion polls and active public participations in the process of public policy making need to be considered seriously. Last but not the least, a right of the mayor of Seoul to introduce a legislative bill to the national assembly is worthwhile to seek. Intensive reviews are necessary to find out how the mayor of London in the U.K. get the right to submit a draft of proposed law to the national congress.



01 Introduction

1_Background and Purposes

2_Major Contents and Research Methods


02 The Capacity of Local Autonomy and Special Laws of Urban Administration

1_The Local Autonomy of Seoul Metropolitan Government and its Limitations

2_Reviews of Special Laws of Urban Administration at Home and Abroad


03 The Capacity of Local Autonomy by Five Domains of Mega-Cities Abroad

1_Tokyo in Japan

2_Paris in France

3_London in U.K.

4_New York in U.S.A.


04 Comparative Analysis of Seoul with Advanced Mega-Cities Abroad


2_Autonomous Legislation Domain

3_Autonomous Organisation Domain

4_Autonomous Finance Domain

5_Work Redistributions between the Central Government and Seoul

6_Relations of the Central Government and Cooperative Governance Domain


05 Policy Suggestions to Improve the Capacity of Local Autonomy

1_Main Policy Implications out of Comparative analysis with Foreign Mega-Cities

2_Major Tasks to Improve the Capacity of Local Autonomy in General

3_Major Tasks to Improve the Capacity of Local Autonomy of Seoul in Particular