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A storm is brewing

Oct 18,2017
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Korea Meteorological Administration’s office building in Dongjak District, southern Seoul. [KANG CHAN-SU]
The Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) has been labeled the “Misreporting Administration” in the past, but this time, it has earned another disgraceful nickname, the “Corruption Administration.” The situation is so serious that even its employees call the agency corrupt.

According to the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission’s report on the integrity of public agencies submitted to the National Assembly on Oct. 16, the Meteorological Administration received the lowest rating, grade 5, in overall integrity. It was rated grade 3 in 2012-2014, grade 4 in 2015 and grade 5 last year. It received the grade 3 rating in an external survey, but KMA employees actually gave the agency the lowest mark in an internal survey.

There have been constant controversies over the purchases of equipment such as LIDAR and multi-purpose meteorological aircraft. LIDAR was supposed to be installed at airports as it is a system that can prevent flight accidents caused by turbulence. But the KMA and the company that made the system have been embroiled in a lawsuit over the capabilites of the device since 2011.

The incumbent KMA chief had to be summoned by the police as a suspect. The 19.2 billion won ($16.9 million) multipurpose meteorological aircraft was supposed be introduced in Oct. 2015, but it was only registered last month. A 13-seat aircraft was purchased instead of a 21-seater as planned, and the new plane doesn’t even have space for all the equipment.

The KMA does not have licensing and approval powers, but corruption is hard to root out as it deals with the expensive meteorological equipment market, where academic connections are strong.

A source knowledgeable in the KMA said that internal reporting does not work, and whistle-blowers could get posted to remote islands.
So, the employees can only make critical comments in anonymous surveys. KMA spokesman Jeong Hae-jeong said that the administration is working on a monitoring system to anonymously handle corruption reports, but employees certainly fear that whistle-blowers would be exposed in the end.

A more serious problem is that corruption related to equipment procurement is only subject to light punishment, such as reprimands or warnings. With corruption and misreporting, the KMA has lost confidence, and the citizens cannot condone the slack operation any more. Newly appointed KMA head Nam Jae-cheol hasn’t announced a position on organizational reshuffle. Without determination for a thorough overhaul, it won’t be easy to rebuild the fallen reputation of the KMA.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 17, Page 33

*The author is an environmental news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

KANG CHAN-SU