Controversy over President Lee Myung-bak’s ambitious four river restoration project deepened Friday as the government found itself at odds with the ruling party after the state auditor issued a report calling the project a failure.
Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Kwon Do-youp and Environment Minister Yoo Young-sook held a joint press conference Friday defending the restoration project, saying there are no safety or functional problems.
“As the public paid attention to the project, the largest state-led project by the incumbent government, (we were) very strict in managing and checking the project, in collaboration with private companies and specialized institutions,” Kwon told the reporters in Seoul.
“(The project) has proven its efficacy as it significantly reduced damage by drought and four typhoons last year,” the minister said, adding that he could not accept the report released by the state auditor on Thursday.
He sought to refute the report released by the Board of Audit and Inspection, which said the 22.2 trillion won ($20.1 billion) project was seriously flawed and had caused environmental damage such as lowering the water quality of the rivers.
The BAI also concluded that the project was executed poorly and raised concern that it would require the next government to spend more money on additional work to reinforce the new structures.
The ruling party, which originally supported the state project, urged the government to reassess and seek a realistic solution, in an apparent move to protect incoming leader Park Geun-hye from taking over the financial and political burden.
|Land, Transport and Maritime Minister Kwon Do-youp (right) and Environment Minister Yoo Young-sook hold a joint press conference to repudiate the state auditors’ negative evaluation of the four-river refurbishment project at the government complex in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap News)|
“The government must clarify whether the problems pointed out in the four river project are true or not and present what kind of solutions they have,” Saenuri Party floor leader Lee Hahn-koo said during a high-level meeting between the government and the ruling party.
“After confirming the position and the solution of the government, we will be supplementing what needs to be supplemented and provide any parliamentary help that is needed.”
The main opposition Democratic United Party lambasted the government for “ignoring incessant calls by the people and the opposition party against the project.”
“It has been confirmed once again through the BAI’s report that the four river restoration project was insolvent as a whole,” DUP spokesman Park Yong-jin said. “We must investigate the political and judicial responsibility for this.”
Lee’s project was designed to improve the country’s water management system and prevent the four major rivers ― the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan rivers ― from flooding.
It was one of Lee’s major presidential campaign pledges and was carried out within his five years of tenure, despite heavy criticism. Environmental activists have staged protests for a halt to the project citing permanent environmental damage.
The BAI report concluded that the government used unrealistic conditions to estimate how the construction of dams and other facilities would affect the water quality. The state auditor also found that 15 of 16 dams showed that the protection of the river bed had collapsed, and the floodgates at 12 weirs were malfunctioning.
The state auditor, however, said on Friday that there was no political motive behind the report, amid mounting criticism that it came in a critical time when the transition of power was about to happen.
“There was no political consideration in the report. We made conclusion as soon as we could by hiring experts to conduct a thorough inspection,” a BAI official said.
The report was welcomed by the environmental groups.
“The conclusion of the audit has revealed that the government’s argument that the four rivers can improve water quality, secure the water quantity and prevent flooding was all false,” the groups including the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement said at a press conference. They called for a public apology from President Lee.
Construction companies, on the other hand, expressed regret.
“Civil engineering projects (usually) go through a stabilizing process and currently, companies in charge of the project are carrying out reinforcement works, if necessary,“ said an official at a civil engineering company in Seoul.
With speculation that the latest controversy might strain the outgoing and incoming governments, reports said Park’s presidential transition committee would consider establishing a separate committee to reassess the four river refurbishment project, quoting party officials. Park said during a TV debate last month that she would launch a committee to deal with the project if it causes any environmental or functional problems.
By Cho Chung-un (firstname.lastname@example.org