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Environmental protection is key

May 24,2017
President Moon Jae-in has ordered a fresh probe into the signature four-rivers restoration project of former President Lee Myung-bak.
He also commanded weirs constructed at four major rivers to stay open at all times starting next month to prevent green algal blooms ahead of summer. Upon taking office, Moon signed executive orders to put irregular workers at state-owned Incheon International Airport Corp. on the permanent payroll, scrapping state administration and publication of school history textbooks, and the inspection of a prosecutorial dinner where senior officials allegedly gave cash envelopes to state prosecutors.

Moon has now gone to a questionable state project of nine years ago to find and fix irregularities in policy decisions and their executive and is not motivated to find fault with the past governments, said Kim Su-hyun, senior secretary for social affairs. He, however, said punitive actions would be taken upon discovering evident wrongdoings.

The $20 billion project to redevelop the four major rivers of the country — the Han, Yeongsan, Geum, Nakdong — and surrounding banks has been controversial for nine years. The project was hastily completed during the Lee administration, but evaluation of it was mixed. His government claimed it had built 16 weirs, five dams, and 96 reservoirs to secure 800 million tons of water reservoirs against drought. Paths along the rivers were renovated for bike riders and strollers. But the river developments were blamed for worsening algal blooms and water habitats for fish. Environmentalists have been calling for the removal of the weirs.

The previous government and the Board of Audit and Inspections aggravated confusion and conflict. The BAI conducted probes three times and gave different appraisals every time. It said there were no environmental harms in 2011 and then two years later said the dams did not help in improving water quality. In a new audit under the President Park Geun-hye administration, it discovered irregularities among builders.

For objective new evaluations, Moon will form a joint state and civilian committee. The new evaluation team will carry out a scientific study on the connection of the construction and the blooms. It would probe whether the blooms have worsened because of water locked in the weirs or because of hotter weather as the environment ministry claims. The committee would conduct the evaluation until the end of 2018, but should extend it if necessary. Whether to deconstruct the facilities or keep them should be decided with public interest in mind.

The political sector should not waste time wrangling. The government should carry out a scientific audit to leave no suspicions. Instead of trying to uncover past wrongdoings, it should concentrate on combating the seasonal bloom problem. The probe should aim for an “environmental” goal, not a political one.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 23, Page 34