Published : 2013-01-20 20:02
Updated : 2013-01-20 20:02
The state auditor and the ministries concerned are engaged in a dispute over the auditor’s conclusion that President Lee Myung-bak’s vaunted four-river project was flawed from the beginning. Also drawn into the conflict are political parties.
Now, the president’s 22 trillion won project is turning into such a serious scandal that President-elect Park Geun-hye’s incoming administration will have to look into the case and verify the claim that the construction work was poorly designed and implemented. If the project turns out to be a failure, the new administration will have to determine who should be held accountable and what remedial measures are needed to be taken, and at what additional cost.
On Thursday last week, the Board of Audit and Inspection, in completing its second inspection into the project, said the project was so flawed that damage was being done to the environment. It said the quality of water in the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan rivers had worsened and some parts of their riverbeds had eroded.
The next day, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, together with the Ministry of Environment, hit back, claiming that the project has made it possible to properly regulate the flow of water in the rivers during droughts and rainy seasons. The ministries said the overall quality of water was improving and that no serious safety problems had been raised about the dams constructed across the rivers.
Judging from a distance, however, the state auditor is more cowardly than disingenuous. In a report on its earlier inspection, conducted in 2010-11, the auditor said it found no serious problems with the project. The report, in retrospect, could have been nothing short of a kowtow to President Lee, given the possibility that the auditor felt it needed to curry favor with him. Now that it is a period of transition, however, it probably decided to come straight out with its findings this time.
No matter what prompted the auditor to declare the project was a failure, the main opposition Democratic United Party is demanding an investigation into the case to determine who should be held legally and politically accountable. Environmental activists are making similar demands.
Given that the ruling Saenuri Party endorsed the project from the beginning, the incoming Park administration will be pressured to conduct an inspection into the case. The ruling party must be prepared for a demand for a separate inspection by the National Assembly, which the opposition party may have up in its sleeve.