The Korea Herald


North Jeolla Province governor apologizes, defends against ‘defamation’ over Jamboree mishandling

Jamboree saga turns into tit-for-tat political battle

By Park Jun-hee

Published : Aug. 14, 2023 - 19:00

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Participants of the 2023 World Scout Jamboree are at the closing ceremony of the event at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Friday. (Pool photo) Participants of the 2023 World Scout Jamboree are at the closing ceremony of the event at Seoul World Cup Stadium on Friday. (Pool photo)

As the 25th World Scout Jamboree concluded amid controversy over mismanagement and alleged misuse of funds, the governor of North Jeolla Province publicly bowed his head in apology, but he also said legal action would be taken against the spread of false information.

“Many people expected and supported a large-scale international event in North Jeolla Province, but we are very sorry that we could not reap the beauty of the end,” Gov. Kim Kwan-young said in a press briefing Monday. “As the governor of the host city, I can’t help but feel responsible. I deeply apologize to the people who have been hurt.”

He continued, “If North Jeolla Province has done something wrong, of course, I will take responsibility for it.” He added, “I have no intention of avoiding responsibility as a provincial governor.”

The two-week World Scout Jamboree, which kicked off on Aug. 1 in the treeless flatland campsite at Saemangeum in Buan, North Jeolla Province, was plagued by a lack of hygiene, shelter and privacy, and drew heavy criticism for insufficient preparations despite prior warnings of inclement weather conditions.

One of the biggest moot points was whether the organizing committee and related bodies had adequately used public funds of 117.1 billion ($88.9 million). Allegations have also been raised that civil servants enjoyed lavish overseas business trips in the name of “research” while preparing for the event. According to reports, they reportedly attended a game with soccer star Son Heung-min during their travel.

The governor dismissed such rumors, saying he would open an internal audit into the allegations and thoroughly investigate to seek the truth. He added that “misusing or wasting taxpayers’ money cannot be allowed.”

He said the “truth will be revealed” by examining the duties and specific tasks conducted by the government, organizing committee and local authorities.

He stressed that the focus should lie on bringing the truth to light through the scrutiny of the Board of Audit and Inspection and parliamentary investigation, urging political parties and the central government to stop the blame game.

The aftermath of the event continues to be at the center of a political spat as lawmakers on both sides of the aisles were busy passing the buck to each other.

Ruling bloc officials pointed fingers at the former Moon Jae-in government for inadequately preparing the event. The same year Moon took office, South Korea was chosen as the host country for the event in 2017. The ruling People Power Party also plans to clarify the responsibility of North Jeolla Province, the regional government in charge of the event.

The main opposition Democratic Party of Korea meanwhile hit back by pushing for a parliamentary inspection, countering that the Yoon Suk Yeol-led central government should take ultimate responsibility.

Former President Moon Jae-in joined in accusing the government of poorly handling the event, saying the country had seen a “decline in national status” and “lost pride” with the Saemangeum Jamboree via a Facebook post on Sunday. “Even heaven didn’t lend a helping hand (to the Jamboree event) because people were unprepared,” his post read.

Regarding Moon’s remarks, a presidential official said the post was reckless and thoughtless.

Meanwhile, President Yoon thanked the business sector, religious communities, universities and local governments on Monday for playing a pivotal role in protecting the “national brand image,” as he was quoted as saying by his spokesperson Lee Do-woon.

Lee said Yoon also praised the military, police, firefighters and other public workers who were assiduous in ensuring safety during the event and thanked them for their help in smoothly winding up the event.

Amid the trouble-hit Scouting saga, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on the same day that the government will take the time to closely analyze and reflect on the tasks the Jamboree has left, referring to such as “shortfalls revealed in hosting the event.”

Han noted that the experience of overcoming difficulties is precious, adding it is all the more crucial to be able to prevent and prepare for crises.

Han, however, said tasks requiring attention still hang in the air, pointing to criticism the event had faced such as lack of facilities and insufficient management.