[EDITORIALS]Walkie-talkie hocus-pocus

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[EDITORIALS]Walkie-talkie hocus-pocus

A nasty smell of foul play is coming from the Ministry of National Defense's 1998 choice for its VHF walkie-talkie project. The JoongAng Ilbo reported in its Friday edition that an "unfit" product made by a certain company identified only as "D" was selected in the project. That is why a suspicion of collusion between the company's management and the power elite surrounds the case.

The ministry defended its selection for the company's multichannel walkie-talkie by saying that although the "D" company's product did have some glitches, they were not fatal. What's more, the ministry said, the glitches were corrected later. The ministry added that the company's product was cheaper than those made by competitors. Anyone who knows what the military's walkie-talkies are used for would never give such an explanation.

A walkie-talkie is the military's ears and central nervous system. Thus, it does not make sense to choose unfit equipment that is cheaper over equipment ruled "fit." There is no logic in the ministry's action that just to save 3 percent, or 2.51 million won ($1,550) of the 60 million-won product, it selected a walkie-talkie that was judged "unfit for combat use" during the trial period.

The "D" company's walkie-talkie failed completely in three criteria put forth by the army and broke down frequently during the trial period. The product, critics pointed out, would never be fully manufactured with Korean components. No matter what the faults were, the company's product was chosen in the end. So, how does one explain that? Not easily.

The timing of the selection also comes across as dubious. The "D" company's product, which was initially judged unfit for combat use, was selected in December 1998, after the Kim Dae-jung administration came into power.

The person who headed the procurement committee meeting became vice minister for national defense. He later was arrested for receiving bribes in the procurement projects. The ministry wound up the controversial procurement bid by deciding to make him accountable when there are problems. If the truth is not fully disclosed and unearthed, the public may begin to have doubts about the entire scope of the 4.2 trillion won project to upgrade the nation's military equipment.

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