Park, Saenuri Party divided over inquiry into flawed river project

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jul 15, 2013 - 20:15
  • Updated : Jul 15, 2013 - 20:15
President Park Geun-hye and the ruling Saenuri Party were divided Monday over the state auditors’ recent negative assessment of her predecessor Lee Myung-bak’s project to refurbish major rivers.

The Board of Audit and Inspection last week announced the result of its inquiry, saying that Lee may have intended the project as a prelude to a controversial canal plan which he had scrapped in the face of public opposition.

The “hidden” long-term plan caused a number of serious problems such as bid rigging, increased costs and poor water quality management, the report said.

During a meeting with senior presidential secretaries Monday, Park urged officials to investigate suspicions raised by the state auditor and come up with follow-up measures to fix any flaws in the 22 trillion won project to dam, dredge and clean up the nation’s four largest rivers.

“There is a need to clearly address what was pushed excessively with taxpayers’ money,” the president was quoted as saying by her spokeswoman Kim Haing.

Park added that the government should establish a new principle and standard when implementing state-led projects, not to repeat mistakes made in the past like the four-river project.

Earlier in the day, the ruling Saenuri Party leadership denounced the state audit agency for making inconsistent reports and raised doubts on the agency’s political neutrality.

“(The BAI) has made three different reports that cannot help but question its credibility,” Saenuri Chairman Hwang Woo-yea said during the party’s supreme council meeting.

“(We have) to check whether the BAI has a problem with keeping its political neutrality and the way it exercise its authority,” he said.

The BAI had conducted inspections on the project two previous times.

In 2011, the BAI said the project had no problem. But in January this year when Lee’s presidency was nearing an end and the nation was greeting the new leader, the state auditor reversed its previous stance, saying the project was a failure.

Since its third assessment last week, Cheong Wa Dae has supported the BAI. Senior presidential press secretary Lee Jung-hyun even said, “The Lee government has deceived the people and the government must tell the people what has gone wrong.”

But the Saenuri leadership blamed the state auditor for failing to acknowledge the project’s efficiency and addressing only its faulty parts. “Despite two typhoons that hit (the country) last year, the government announced that there was no damage reported after implementing the four river restoration project,”

“The BAI should not conclude its report by just pointing that the project was carried out with a (political) intention but should evaluate the project in the bigger picture by looking into the efficiency of the project,” Hwang said.

Supreme Council member Shim Jae-chul, a close aide to former president Lee Myung-bak, agreed.

“There was no report of flood damage even though the country was hit with heavy downpours (last year). It suggests that the water bowl has actually grown up,” Shim said.

Sources say, however, the Saenuri leadership disclosing public criticism against the BAI reflects its concern that the auditor’s assessment could trigger another factional divide deeply rooted within the party.

Party members close to former President Lee already lashed out at the BAI out last week, saying its report is politically motivated. They also urged the BAI chairman Yang Geon to resign as well as blaming Cheong Wa Dae for supporting the BAI’s report.

By Cho Chung-un (