[EDITORIALS]Money for tourismIt has been revealed that Hyundai Group and the Korean National Tourism Organization have agreed with North Korea on a plan to provide construction material for the repair of roads near Mount Paektu, to facilitate tourism at the mountain. The agreement was brought to light shortly after Hyundai said, “It is essential that the government support Mount Paektu tourism with repairs to the airport and by supplying electricity.” The fact that this agreement was reached two days before Hyundai chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il makes it look especially suspicious.
It is problematic that a public enterprise, relying on tax revenue, should be so intimately involved in North Korean tourism. Hyundai Asan, which exclusively handles South Korean tourism in the North, recorded a deficit of 810 billion won ($778 million) during its first five years of doing so, because of slipshod planning. To save the company from bankruptcy, the government provided a subsidy of some 120 billion won. The bulk of it was a loan of 90 billion won from the Korean National Tourism Organization. About half the amount is still in arrears. Taxpayers’ money has evaporated into thin air. Nevertheless, the tourism agency wants to give the company more. It is tantamout to ignoring the people.
It is even more absurd that the details of the new agreement with the North have not been revealed. It is rumored that a “huge deal” has been made, apart from the agreement on the construction material for the roadwork. It is not reasonable that the government should remain silent on the matter. The previous administration at least pretended to agonize over its support for Mount Kumgang tourism; it appealed to the people to understand that while the subsidy violated the principle of separating business and politics, it also contributed to the improvement of inter-Korean relations. But the current government is not making any such efforts.
However belatedly, those involved, including the government, should disclose the details of this agreement. Without a public consensus, no North Korea project can succeed. Hyundai should stop asking for government support. Instead, it should consider options like forming a consortium with Korean and foriegn businesses. Hyundai’s tourism projects shouldn’t be supported with public money.
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