All activities of the Special Investigation Commission on Social Disasters ended on Sept. 10 with no outcomes to speak of.
The commission was launched in the days of President Moon Jae-in’s administration to find the truth about deaths apparently caused by humidifier disinfectants in 2014 and the Sewol ferry sinking on April 16, 2016. The causes of the incidents were found a long time ago. It only wasted taxpayers' money trying to find new causes to no avail.
Ku Ja-keun, a National Assembly member of the ruling People Power Party, on Sunday disclosed the National Assembly Budget Office data which analyzed the commission’s budget spending.
According to the data, it spent more than 54 billion won ($38.8 million) over three years and nine months from the commencement of investigation in December 2018 to the end of its activities.
It spent 118 million won on 10 overseas business trips, but most of them got nowhere.
Commission members visited India and London at a cost of about 22 million won, but returned empty-handed because the people they planned to interview refused to meet them or to answer most of their questions.
A six-day business trip to Kumamoto prefecture, Japan, in 2019 was made under the pretext of collecting basic data on environmental diseases in connection with the Minamata disease, though it is a disease first identified in Minamata in the prefecture in 1956, nearly 70 years ago.
In connection with the probe of the Sewol ferry sinking, it went on five overseas business trips and the post-trip reports were pitiful. It is questionable if the trips were really necessary.
The report on a trip to Russia and Poland in February 2020 contained only five lines and about 70 words.
A researcher stayed in London for 12 days in 2019 at a cost of 4.36 million won, but the trip report was only one page long.
Regarding the Sewol sinking, the commission concluded in June that an external force was not the cause of the accident. The finding was of essentially no consequence.
Then it inserted a confusing phrase in the final report that the possibility of the ferry being impacted by external force could not be excluded. The commission played with words, apparently because some commissioners strongly believed in the so-called “external force theory,” an unfounded argument by conspiracy theorists that a certain object such as a submarine collided with the ferry.
The commission spent 19 million won to research and analyze the abnormal patterns of online comments on news on the tragic Sewol sinking. It was a playful justification.
It also spent 262 million won on collecting images needed to write the Sewol ferry white paper. Expenses for the publication and preservation of the white paper amounted to 1.11 billion won. Despite all the money spent, the commission’s final report was poor in substance.
The panel spent 20.47 billion won or 37.4 percent of its total spending as basic expenses, 18.43 billion won (33.7 percent) as personnel expenses and 15.86 billion won (28 percent) as major project expenses. About 71 percent of its total spending was used to maintain the organization.
Throughout its period of activity, it awarded 106 research service contracts worth 8.85 billion won to outside institutions. Thirty of them were private contracts that did not go through competitive bidding. These contracts were worth 2.13 billion won.
Last year, it secured an additional reserve fund worth 13.3 billion, but 4.45 billion or 33.3 percent of it was left unused.
In short, all of its activities ended with poor performance despite an enormous budget. The ferry sinking was reinvestigated multiple times. All the convincing causes had already been found. Still, it was reinvestigated again by the special commission during Moon's presidency. Suspicions turned out be groundless. Everyone with common sense could expect this outcome.
The Board of Audit and Inspection must reveal the whole picture of the commission’s wastefulness.