Published : 2013-02-20 20:18
Updated : 2013-02-20 20:18
President Lee Myung-bak, whose five-year term in office ends Sunday, presided over his final Cabinet meeting and delivered a farewell address to the nation Tuesday.
The past five years, he said in the address, had not just been one of the most demanding periods of time for him but one of the most rewarding ones. To his credit, the nation emerged almost unscathed from global economic crises under his stewardship. Among other things he cited as his achievements were Korea’s new status as the seventh-largest trader in the world and the upgrading of its sovereign credit ratings.
Summing up, he said Korea was on the threshold of turning itself into a truly advanced nation, which he said appeared to be a distant goal at the time of his inauguration. He said, “We may well take pride in ourselves.”
He mentioned his failures, but fleetingly. He acknowledged that ordinary people find themselves hard-pressed, as the economy is recovering slowly. Growth was at a dismal 2 percent last year.
Quite a few would say they are worse off now than when Lee came to power, promising to generate an annual average growth of 7 percent, increase per capital income to $40,000 in 10 years and make Korea the seventh largest economy in the world in a decade. He failed to keep any of those promises.
One of the most controversial projects he launched was the big-ticket, four-year project to keep the nation’s four major rivers from overflowing during the rainy season and improve their quality of water. His administration poured as much as 22 trillion won into the project.
But the Board of Audit and Inspection, which concluded that the project was a total failure, said it worsened the quality of water and damaged the environment. Nonetheless, Lee maintained that the money would prove to have been worth spending when the dams built on the rivers successfully prevent floods in the years ahead.
Another serious problem was his earlier insistence that his was a “morally perfect administration.” Contrary to his claim, one of his older brothers was sent to prison for taking hundreds of millions of won in bribes. Two of his closest friends were also sent to prison for taking bribes, only to be pardoned by the president.
The main opposition Democratic United Party accused him of being conceited and attempting to deceive the people. It was not alone in attacking him for his poor performance. One opinion poll had a disapproval rating of 61.7 percent.