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Taking Lesson from Big Development Projects

Taking Lesson from Big Development Projects

PARK Jae-Ryong

Mar. 14, 2005

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Some of Korea's big development projects have been delayed or suspended due to never-ending disputes. The Saemangum land reclamation project, abortive construction of a storage facility for disposal of radioactive waste, and completion of the second-phase project for the Seoul to Busan High-Speed Railway system are all being held up over environmental concerns, poor project planning, and unclear economic benefits. The government has come under widespread criticism for launching these projects without sufficiently developing national consensus.

Such controversy has caused frequent arguments over the validity of these projects, creating cost overruns, and recurring project delays. They have also fuelled clashes between communities torn by different interests. It is possible for one community to stick to a so-called NIMBY ("Not-In-My-Back-Yard") line while another community may develop a PIMFY ("Please-In-My-Front-Yard") syndrome.

Other countries resolve these disputes better. In a number of small but economically strong European countries, big government-sponsored development projects are implemented only after public consensus has been sufficiently formed. National development strategies and projects are rigorously debated before they are undertaken. This is true even in China where infrastructure projects are centrally planned and executed. Still, China has hardly been spared from environmental disputes.

In Korea, implementation of certain mega projects has triggered so much controversy that the government is demanding legislation of what may be termed a "social conflict resolution law"this year to help resolve these disputes peacefully. Some of these controversies have even involved the President's intervention. All this has created a situation where national interest as perceived by the government clashes with interest as perceived by residents of communities targeted for development projects.

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