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Development Overview
Government and Law Governance

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Governance

Local government: Phase 1

1. Institutional Guarantees of Local Government and Administration
 
(1) Constitution of 1948: Constitutional Guarantees of Local Government and Administration
Today’s system of local administration has its roots in the first Constitution of Korea, enacted on July 17, 1948, as well as in the Provisional Measures Act on Local Government (PMA), enacted on November 17 of the same year. Articles 96 and 97, Chapter 8, of the original Constitution[1] define the basic terms of local government. The original Constitution was amended in the Second Republic, at which time additional provisions and improvements were inserted into the constitutional guarantees of local administration.[2]
 
(2) Statutory Guarantees of Local Government and Administration
The PMA was the first statute ever passed in Korea’s modern history that provided for local administration. It was replaced by the Local Government Act (LGA), which was enacted and promulgated in July 1949 and has undergone multiple partial and complete amendments (in December 1949, December 1955, February 1956, July 1956, and December 1958, all under the First Republic; November 1960 under the Second Republic).

Pursuant to Article 116 of the LGA, which obligated legislation governing the organization of local administration, the Cases on Provincial Administrative Agencies was promulgated under presidential decree in 1949. The Cases also went through multiple amendments (in April 1950 and 1951), and in December 1961 was renamed the Cases on Provincial and Seoul Metropolitan Special Administrative Agencies.
 
 
2. Main Terms of Institutional Guarantees and their Evolution
 
(1) Constitutional Terms of Guarantees for Local Government and Administration
The main emphasis of the original Constitution was on local government organizations as subjects authorized “to handle administrative tasks pertaining to local government or those delegated by the state and manage local properties.” The Constitution did not lay out specific terms and conditions pertaining to the organization and operation of local governments, but merely expressed that those local governments be formed.

The Second Republic’s Constitution differed from its predecessor in that while the former specified the manner or mode in which the heads of local councils or organizations were to be elected, the new Constitution defined new terms for electing the heads of cities, eup, and myeon[3] to reflect the changing currents of the era. Despite the brevity of the Second Republic’s reign, it was at this time that the heads of municipalities and local districts began to be elected democratically.
 
(2) Statutory Terms of Guarantees for Local Government and Administration
Except for the items detailed in the Constitution and the National Government Organization Act (NGOA), the PMA promulgated in November 1948 decided the terms for the organization of local administration. The Provisional Measures Act delineated 15 units of regional administration, including the City of Seoul and 14 provinces. It divided Seoul into smaller districts known as gu, and each province into smaller districts known as bu and gun (county). Provinces and gun were subdivided into yet smaller districts known as eup and myeon.

The LGA, enacted in 1949, included provisions for five types of local government organizations, namely, the provinces, the City of Seoul, other cities, eup, and myeon. The provinces and Seoul were placed under direct control of the central government, and cities, eup, and myeon under each province’s control. The governors of the provinces and the Mayor of Seoul were to be appointed by the President, while the heads of cities, eup, and myeon could be elected by popular vote. Membership on each local council was divided between elected officials serving a term of four years each and honorary officials. City, eup, and myeon councils could wield a vote of non-confidence against the heads of cities, eup, and myeon, and the heads of cities, eup, and myeon were given the similar right to dissolve local councils.

Local government organizations were given administrative and legislative powers of a limited scope. Cities, eup, and myeon were able to hire local government employees. The provinces and Seoul, on the other hand, were required to hire government employees from both the central bureaucracy and local public service, with all mid- and high-level officials at or above the rank of section chief to be drawn from the central bureaucracy. In addition to appointing officials to local governments, the central government could intervene in local government affairs in an a posteriori, corrective manner, and within the legally defined bounds of monitoring (Jeong, 2000). The LGA, the first Act of its kind enacted in 1949, underwent its first amendment in December of the same year. The new legislation introduced into the LGA obligated that penalties be levied only according to Cabinet orders and rules, and that a system be introduced for impeaching and expelling council members and the local government heads in the case of misconduct.

The LGA of 1949 underwent another major reform in February 1956. The amendment replaced the indirect election of city, eup, and myeon heads with direct election, and abolished a local government head’s right to dissolve a local council as well as a local council’s vote of non-confidence against a local government head. The LGA of 1956 also separated local government organizations from the central government, ensuring their independence. In July 1956, the LGA was again amended to make the number of local councilors to the size of the local population more proportional, and to divide the provinces and Seoul into smaller electoral districts.

The LGA experienced a major overhaul in December 1958 under the First Republic. The new amendment involved abolishing the direct election of city, eup, and myeon heads and reducing the scope of power of local councils. The supervisory agency of the central government could now adjourn a local council after it had held the maximum number of legislative sessions or days as defined by law. Once adjourned, the local council could not hold any standing committee meetings until it resumed its sessions. The local council’s vote of non-confidence against the head of a local government, and the head of a local government’s right to dissolve the local council, both of which had been abolished, were reinstated.

The Second Republic amended not only the Constitution, but also the LGA in November 1960. With the amendment, the system of appointing the Mayor of Seoul, provincial governors, and the heads of cities, eup, myeon, dong, and li was repealed and replaced by the election system. In addition to limiting the number of days local councils could hold open sessions, the vote of non-confidence against local council heads was also resurrected. In addition, people could now cast absentee ballots in local elections.

The main statutory provisions regarding administrative organizations were Articles 116, 117, and 118 of the LGA and the Cases on Provincial Administrative Agencies, which were promulgated by presidential decrees. The LGA of 1949 originally stated: “bureaus may be installed in provincial administrations to divide up tasks and workload. Where necessary, the number of such local bureaus may be reduced, or the names and roles of such bureaus changed, by presidential decrees.” Thus, changes to the LGA made in 1960 are as follows.
 
 
  1. The Internal Affairs Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to office operations, personnel, accounting, budgets, local administration, legislation and ordinances, elections, the management and preservation of basic assets, open recruitment, local taxes, finance, civil engineering, and other tasks not delegated to other bureaus.
  2. The Education Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to education and the arts and sciences.
  3. The Society Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to healthcare, welfare, aid, labor, and women’s issues.
  4. The Agriculture Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to farming, forestry, dairy farming, and food supplies.
  5. The Commerce Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to commerce, mining, fishery, weights and measures, and patents.
  6. The Police Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to public order and fire safety (Article 116).
 
Article 117 of the revised LGA defined the administrative organization of Seoul as follows.
 
 
  1. The Internal Affairs Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to office operations, personnel, accounting, budgets, legislation and ordinances, elections, the supervision of administrative subunits, and other administrative tasks not delegated to other bureaus.
  2. The Finance Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to the management and preservation of basic assets, open recruitment, local taxes, and finance.
  3. The Education Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to education and the arts and sciences.
  4. The Industry Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, supplies, prices, and weights and measures.
  5. The Construction Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to urban planning, waterworks, sewage, housing, and other such tasks of civil engineering.
  6. The Society Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to healthcare, welfare, aid, labor, and women’s issues.
  7. The Police Bureau shall perform and manage tasks pertaining to public order and fire safety.
 
The administrative subunits of the provinces and Seoul were subject to the approval of the Secretary of Interior, while the subunits of cities, eup, and myeon were subject to the approval of provincial governors as well as local rules (Article 118).

Pursuant to this new administrative organization system, the provinces of Chungcheongbuk-do, Chungcheongnam-do, Jeollabuk-do, and Gangwon-do each installed one Industry Bureau combining the functions of agriculture and commerce bureaus. The island of Jeju had one General Accounting Bureau, which combined the functions of the internal affairs, education, society, agriculture, and commerce bureaus (see the Cases of 1949). The Cases on Provincial Administrative Agencies of 1950 detailed the creation of internal affairs, arts and society, industry, and police bureaus in the provinces, and reformed the General Accounting Bureau in Jeju so that it combined the functions of the internal affairs, arts and society, and industry bureaus.
 
 
3. Significance and Evaluation of Institutional Guarantees
 
(1) Constitution
That the Constitution of 1948 provided for local government is meaningful in the history of local administration in Korea. Although the original Constitution included only two brief articles on local administration, local government organizations came into being and began to handle tasks delegated by the state and manage local properties with constitutional protection. According to the Constitution, the nascent Korean government was required to see to it that local councils were formed.

The rules on local government and administration were constitutionally enshrined and as such became an integral part of the governance structure of the newborn Republic. The constitutional guarantees of local government and administration also indicated an awareness of the need for the separation of powers.

In particular, the express mention of the election of the heads of cities, eup, and myeon in the Constitution of the Second Republic constitutes one of the first genuine attempts at political decentralization in modern Korean history. As already indicated, municipal leaders were put into office through indirect election until 1956. This new, direct system of election lasted for only a short while, however, as it was abolished and replaced with the appointment system in 1948. The Second Republic recognized the need to protect the principle of local government from political expediencies, including the direct election of city, eup, and myeon heads in the Constitution in 1960 and with that inclusion upholding the cause of political decentralization.
 
(2) LGA and its Amendments
The LGA, enacted in 1949, is significant as the first legislation to introduce the institutional and organizational framework for local government and administration in Korea based on the Constitution. The LGA replaced the PMA of 1948, and introduced a more structured, modern model of local administration.

The general Korean public, however, was neither ready nor able to embrace and implement the ideals of the modern democracy in local government. Long accustomed to the Confucian tradition of according deference to bureaucrats and later to the absolutist and repressive nature of the Japanese colonial regime, the Korean people had been sapped of their competence for self-government. Local government thus generated various unwanted side effects that attested to a lack of experience and excessive zeal. The tendency to use local administration only as an instrument to promote certain political ends and interests did not help the situation. During this era, only 20 percent or so of the tasks handled by local government organizations pertained to local affairs, and they remained despondently dependent on the central government for approximately 70 percent of their budgets. It was, in other words, an era of centralized local administration.

Although the new Constitution and the LGA introduced in 1960 were more faithful to the principles and ideals of democracy, the causes of democracy, local self-government, and local administration suffered major blows with the military coup d’état of May 16, 1961, a conflict which ultimately resulted in an authoritarian government.
 
 
[1] Article 96:
  1. Local government organizations shall handle administrative matters pertaining to local affairs or those delegated to them by the state, and manage properties.
  2. Local government organizations shall have the right to enact provisions pertaining to local affairs within the limits of laws and decrees.
Article 97:
  1. The organization and operation of local government organizations shall be determined by law.
  2. Each local government shall have its own council.
  3. The organization and powers of, and the election of members to, local councils shall be determined by law.
[2] Article 96:
  1. Local government organizations shall handle administrative matters pertaining to local affairs or those delegated to them by the state, and manage properties.
  2. Local government organizations shall have the right to enact provisions pertaining to local affairs within the limits of laws and decrees.
Article 97:
  1. The organization and operation of local government organizations shall be determined by law.
  2. The appointments of the heads of local government organizations shall be made according to law. The heads of cities, eup, and myeon, however, shall be elected by popular vote (newly added June 15, 1960).
  3. Each local government shall have its own council.
  4. The organization and powers of, and the election of members to, local councils shall be determined by law.
[3] The concept of a “town” can take either of the two different categories in Korean administration: either a city (called “si” in Korean) or a county (called “gun”). A city is further divided into smaller local districts called “gu,” whereas counties do not have such local districts. A city or a county can also be further divided into sub-district units smaller than the size of a “gu,” known as “eup,” “myeon,” and “dong.” In general, of the three, the “eup” tends to be the largest in size and the most populous, and the “dong” the smallest and least populous. The “ri” is even a smaller unit of administration that is found in the comparatively more rural sub-districts like “eup” and “myeon”

 Source: Korea Institute of Public Administration. 2008. Korean Public Administration, 1948-2008, Edited by Korea Institute of Public Administration. Pajubookcity: Bobmunsa.