Caught in a whirlwind of scandals involving corruption, mismanagement and negligence, the chief of Cultural Heritage Administration on Monday vowed an overhaul, but only after some soul-searching.
Just two months into the job, CHA head Na Sun-hwa said her current priority is to get to the bottom of the problems.
“I am well aware that we have been causing you concern ― and only concern ― lately,” she said at a press conference organized to brief reporters on the agency’s 2014 plans. “I promise that we will undertake a major operation once we grasp more clearly what our problems are and what actions to take to fix them.”
Identifying the problems, however, is out of her hands.
Two authorities ― the Board of Audit and Inspection and the police ― are investigating suspected irregularities in the agency’s management of cultural heritages.
The BAI, mobilizing over 50 auditors, has been looking into the “faulty” restoration of an ancient historic gate in downtown Seoul which burned down in a 2008 arson. Designated as the nation’s No. 1 national treasure, the Sungnyemun Gate, also called Namdaemun, reopened in May last year after a five-year restoration.
Soon after its re-opening to the public, paint on the gate started cracking, and one of the wooden columns supporting the pavilion was found to have a meter-long split down the middle.
Separately, the police are investigating some CHA officials suspected of shady relations with private-sector partners over the restoration work.
It was revealed last week that the police have secured a statement from an industry insider that as many as six officials received kickbacks from a company on a regular basis ― 1 million to 300 million won ($280,000) a month.
Na said there was no internal investigation going on regarding the matters.
“We will fully cooperate with the BAI and police in their investigations and will decide what course of action we will take once their findings are out,” she said.
In the agency’s 2014 plans, the CHA officials said they will introduce a slew of changes in the way it executes budget and selects a private company to lead restoration work. The plans, however, received flak from journalists attending the briefing session for a lack of a clear direction.
“What we know for sure is that the current system is flawed. Like you said, the changes we’re introducing may not solve all the problems and some of them may have side effects, but this is part of our efforts to fix the current problems,” deputy administrator Park Young-dae said.
By Lee Sun-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)