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Where is BAI’s independence?

May 25,2017
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“It is really troubling,” a Board of Audit and Inspection executive said on May 23, with a sigh. The previous day, President Moon Jae-in ordered a probe into the four-rivers restoration project of the Lee Myung-bak administration. “We need to start the inspection all over, but I am helpless since yesterday. There are such signs all over the BAI.”

For the first time, the Board of Audit and Inspection is about to begin the fourth inspection on the same case. In fact, the agency doesn’t want to remember the four-rivers project. It has conducted three inspections since 2010, and every report was controversial.

The first inspection on the four-rivers restoration project announced on January 2011 concluded that there are trivial problems but no major issue overall. In the second inspection in January 2013, the report showed that there are major concerns about aggravation of water quality. The third inspection report in July 2013, during the Park Geun-hye administration, showed that the Lee Myung-bak administration condoned collusions, aiming to promote the grand canal project again.

As the restoration project is a sensitive issue, Moon ordered a policy inspection on May 22 through the Blue House Senior Social Affairs Secretary Kim Su-hyun. That could lead to a procedural controversy. When Kim Seon-il, a Korean interpreter and Christian missionary, was kidnapped and murdered in Iraq in 2004, the BAI inspected related ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Then-President Roh Moo-hyun “requested” an inspection, not ordered one. He had reasons to use the word “request.”

According to the Board of Audit and Inspection Act, the board cannot launch an inspection at an order of the president or a Blue House secretary. It states that the prime minister can demand an inspection or related minister requests public inspection. When signatures from more than 300 citizens are collected, a public inspection can also be requested. Professor Cha Jina of the Korea University law school explains that the Board of Audit and Inspection Act defines that the board is established under the president, but shall retain an independent status in regard to its duties.

Of course, Moon can meet the formality requirements through the prime minister or minister’s inspection request. But it is undeniable that the inspection is ordered by the president with a purpose of ending structural evils. For every inspection, more problems have been found in the four-rivers restoration project, and it is unclear what new issues will arise.

If the Board of Audit and Inspection once again finds problems it failed to catch in previous probes, will it be applauded for its success? The independence of the BAI will be hurt for the fourth time and be branded as an agency that conducts insincere probes to please the administration.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 24, Page 30

*The author is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

KIM ROK-HWAN