[VIEWPOINT]A lot of waste in typhoon reliefThe Roh Moo-hyun administration is rushing to designate damaged areas as “special disaster relief zones” as a leading measure in the aftermath of Typhoon Maemi. The storm caused about 120 casualties and 5 trillion won ($4.3 billion) in property damage.
But the designation is like locking the barn door after the horse was stolen. When areas are designated as special disaster zones, extra help is available for rebuilding, including the payment of urgent disaster relief expenses as provided for by presidential decree.
Tax breaks and administrative support are also available more widely.
But last year’s experience with Typhoon Rusa revealed many flaws in the process of designating special disaster zones and in the management of the system. These defects have been overlooked, and the same trial-and-error reaction is about to be repeated this year.
When a specific area is designated as a special disaster zone, engineering and construction works are to be carried out in the zone not only to repair the damage to housing, crops, and livestock but also to prevent a repetition of the flood and wind damage. These works are carried out through government contracts, but the law provides that the contracts can be let without open public bidding.
The head of a local government, acting on behalf of the administration, can enter into such contracts without any oversight because of the emergency needs. Judging from the events in the aftermath of Typhoon Rusa last year, many heads of local governments in the disaster zone abused the emergency contract provisions of the law for political purposes.
They used single-source contracts to reward those who had contributed to their election victories and to prepare for the next election. Most private contracts were awarded to small engineering and construction companies located in the local community, and for this purpose, a number of small companies were hastily founded. These companies had no experience, expertise or equipment to speak of.
The recurrence of a terrible flood after Typhoon Maemi was a result of excluding bigger companies entirely ― companies that do have expertise and equipment. A large amount of damage repair and prevention work that these new, small companies had not started or had only just begun could not withstand the second blow of Typhoon Maemi.
In the process of designating areas ravaged by Typhoon Maemi as special disaster zones, the government should not make the same mistakes yet again. Urgent countermeasures should be left to the local governments in order to assist the typhoon victims in recovering the means of their livelihood, including the provision of disaster relief payments. But repair works for roads, bridges, dikes, farmland, ports and other social overhead capital and preventive public and construction works must be carried out by the central government.
The government should contract with sound companies and let the contracts in a way that transcends regional ties and regional political interests. In this way, the necessary heavy equipment can be mobilized promptly and intensively on a national scale and deployed where it is needed according to the importance and urgency of each project.
A substantial proportion of past disasters in Korea has been caused not by nature but by man-made disasters called shoddy construction work. When stormy winds and rain swept over Mount Jiri five years ago, bridges built during the Japanese occupation remained intact, while bridges built after the foundation of our country in 1948 were washed away, to our dismay.
Before declaring the special disaster zones, the government should first eradicate the shoddy construction works and the companies that built them. The government should inspect every one of the mushrooming number of engineering and construction companies that were established in haste in many regions after Typhoon Rusa. And then the government must exclude them from contracts for repair works after Typhoon Maemi. The National Assembly and the media should also monitor this work thoroughly.
* The writer was a member of the 15th National Assembly. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Dong-bok