The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Jamboree aftermath

BAI audit must look into every issue of
dispute-laden global Scouting event

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 16, 2023 - 05:30

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The 25th World Scout Jamboree in South Korea wrapped up its run on Friday with a massive K-pop concert, but disputes over what went wrong at the event and who should be blamed show no sign of abating.

The Jamboree was entangled in a host of high-profile errors and problems, ranging from the scorching heat wave and typhoon-related disruptions to a lack of hygiene and shelter from the sun. Large contingents from the US and Britain pulled out early. The organizers were also severely criticized for insufficient preparations, among many other failures.

A foreign media outlet quoted a parent from Virginia as saying that her 17-year-old son’s dream to join the Jamboree had turned into a “nightmare” -- a painful expression that sheds light on the bitter experiences some, if not all, young participants from around the world might have felt.

It is, however, encouraging that many people and organizations have made good-will efforts to save the trouble-plagued event from further disaster. As President Yoon Suk Yeol said Monday, the country’s business sector, religious communities, universities and local governments helped out together for the Jamboree.

Yoon praised their roles in protecting the “national brand image,” but some might wonder whether the last-minute help indeed protected the national image, since it had already been damaged so much.

The mammoth event, which cost the nation 117.1 billion won ($87.6 million) in public funds, has raised many questions about the organizers’ management and budget allocation, as well as the question surrounding why the treeless Saemangeum, a flat area of reclaimed land in Buan, North Jeolla Province, was selected as the venue for a Jamboree in the middle of summer.

For a venue that would accommodate some 43,000 participants, the utter lack of restrooms and shower booths is hard to understand, much less the shortage of bottled water and medicine, and the problems related to sewage and drainage.

Local media reported that 86.9 billion won, or 74 percent of the total budget, was spent for the operation of the Jamboree Organizing Committee, while only a paltry 12.9 billion won was earmarked for setting up restrooms, shower booths and related outdoor facilities.

In addition to the lopsided budget allocation, some government officials allegedly spent some of the budget for overseas trips. On Monday, Gov. Kim Kwan-young of North Jeolla Province apologized about the problems linked to the Jamboree but threatened to take legal action against the spread of false information, apparently referring to a flurry of rumors about the misuse of funds.

At this point, whether the budget was wasted as reported in the media remains to be confirmed. That will be down to the Board of Audit and Inspection, which plans to launch an audit as early as this week to identify those responsible for the botched event and mismanagement.

The audit has to investigate not only the Jamboree Organizing Committee, but also government agencies such as the Gender Equality Ministry -- the main supporting ministry for the event -- and the local government of North Jeolla Province.

The cases of shoddy preparations for the large-scale event abound. According to Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the ruling People Power Party, the contract regarding tap water and electricity was signed even though the completion date was past the opening day of the event, resulting in the dangerous setup of electric wires in a shower booth. In addition, the Jamboree’s global youth leader center remained unfinished until the event officially began on Aug. 1.

Equally embarrassing is that an additional 5 billion won of taxpayer money will have to be spent to dismantle the Jamboree facilities. This suggests that there was no specific plan to reuse and utilize the Jamboree venue for other purposes after the close of the event -- another disheartening example in which the lack of preparations resulted in a waste of public funds.

In the forthcoming audit, the BAI must uncover what went wrong with the event, identify all irregularities and hold those responsible accountable to prevent the recurrence of poor management of an international event at the cost of taxpayer money.