Doubt of the benefit

Seongnam reflects on its social pool

TO ITS current occupant, Seongnam’s town hall, a gleaming glass structure, stands as an edifice to wastefulness. It was built for 320 billion won ($280m) under a former conservative mayor of Seongnam, a city of 900,000 a little to the south-east of Seoul, South Korea’s capital. Upon succeeding him in 2010, Lee Jae-myung, the current liberal mayor, declared a moratorium—a first for the country—on repayments of the 520 billion won in debt that he had inherited. Budget cutbacks and an anti-corruption effort have since helped pay down the debt. In 2014 Seongnam was rated South Korea’s most financially stable city by its interior ministry.
Yet the central government, led by Park Geun-hye of the conservative Saenuri party, thinks that Mr Lee, in his second mayoral term, is misusing taxpayers’ money. Last year Seongnam’s local assembly passed a series of social-welfare bills to offer free postnatal care to new mothers; free uniforms to secondary-school pupils; and cash handouts of 500,000 won a year to all of its 24-year-old residents amid high rates of youth unemployment, which it began to...

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