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Tong Heads Hot, Village Heads Cold

Posted February. 10, 2005 22:42,   


"While the job of being a tong (a small county in Korea) head is on the rise, that of the villages is on the decline."

Village office workers of Changwon, South Gyeongsang province were surprised while receiving volunteer candidates for the selection of new tong heads in the beginning of last month.

This was because the village office workers had to ask incumbent tong heads to keep their posts for one more term in the past. On the contrary, more than 50 aspirants applied for some 10 posts this year.

Moreover, many applicants had impressive records as former teachers, executives of small and medium-sized companies, and judicial scriveners.

In Gajang-dong, Seo-gu, Daejeon, 24 applicants crowded at the election which selected eight tong heads at the end of the last year. In the past, there have been only a couple candidates for each tong, who were recommended by the residents and volunteered more or less against their wills.

Tong Head Fever also in Seoul-

When A-dong of Gangdong-gu posted an announcement to select tong heads at the end of last year, seven people applied within one week. The age band of candidates lowered from the 60s to the 30s and 50s.

Although a house wife in her forties who held various volunteering positions was elected after much trouble, there was a lot of noise among the residents who urged, "No reappointment" and "Let`s have a residential vote."

As the competition is getting hotter, many autonomy organizations have adopted an open appointment system and are performing strict screenings through a screen committee composed of dong heads. In some regions, some side-effects like discord and unnecessary costs are becoming problematic.

The reason for rapidly increased popularity of tong heads is that the post is lucrative.

Although there are differences among regions, periodic payment for tong heads increased 100 percent compared to last year to some 200,000 won, and they are also paid 20,000 won for each meeting they participate in. Moreover, they are paid bonuses on New Year`s Day and Korean Thanksgiving, and school tuitions for middle and high school children of tong heads who have worked for more than three years are granted.

Administrative official Jang Geum-yong of the Local Autonomy Administration Division of the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs stated, "Because tougher competition means a greater chance for selecting a more competent tong head, the phenomenon itself cannot be bad. Yet, in order to prevent corruption and negative aftershocks, higher administrative offices and the residents should make concerted efforts."

On the other hand, rural areas are facing an emergency as it is hard to find volunteers for the heads of villages.

This is in part due to the fact that more villages are abolishing the payment system for village heads, which used to give some financial assistance to them. This aggravates the situation of already scarce numbers of young residents in villages.

The "payment system for village heads" refers to the custom in which people collected one or two mals (a unit of measurement, about 18 liters per mal) of rice each year and paid the village heads an "activity allowance" which albeit is not legally set.

Recently, as the numbers of households in which only elderly citizens live or have no special incomes are increasing, even the payment system is becoming burdensome.

Thus, many rural villages including Uiseong-gun of North Gyeongsang province and Gochang-gun of North Jeolla province have abolished the payment system as of the end of last year.

An authority of the Village Head Association in Uljin-gun of North Gyeongsang province questioned, "Who will volunteer to serve as village heads when the payment system that gave a paltry sum for automobile gasoline is abolished even though they do all of the menial work in the villages?"

Village head Kim Han-yul of Angye-myun, Uiseong-gun said, "Since the post of village head is necessary for the residents, the government should come up with appropriate measures and reactivate the system."

Yang-Hwan Jung ray@donga.com