[Outlook]Let the people decideThese days, President Lee Myung-bak emphasizes, as occasion demands, that a public official must remain true to his master, the general public. In the old days when the military government tightly controlled the people, a public official was not a servant to but the sky above the general public. People fell prey to public officials.
Since then, two presidents with the last name Kim, Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, had strong authority over people, so they were sovereigns rather than servants true to the master. Former President Roh Moo-hyun succeeded in eradicating deep-rooted authoritarianism as president; however, he seemed blinded by the idea that the president is not a servant to the people but a leader of the people. The same may be said of President Lee Myung-bak, now that it is easy for presidents to say the right things but difficult to behave accordingly as president. On some occasions, servants try not to follow their master’s orders but do as they like. The Grand Canal project is a prime example.
Before the April general elections, presidential advisers strongly emphasized that the Grand Canal project has already been recognized by the people, Lee won a landslide victory in the 17th presidential election.
Even a child knows that President Lee received overwhelming support from the people, not because of a desire for the Grand Canal project, but for a peaceful transfer of political power.
Just the smell of power seems to be enough to make people as drunk as if they had consumed alcohol.
To begin with, the Grand Canal project was not an appropriate slogan for Lee to advocate in the presidential election.
Unchecked economic development to which nature falls victim is not something we do for our country. As we know, Korea was a poverty-stricken country in the past.
We devoted ourselves to destroying our beautiful natural resources without hesitation because that was where the money was. We crushed beautiful rocks in Ui-dong, Seoul, and sold them abroad. An open sandy field in the Han River is already gone. Numerous wide and beautiful tidal flats full of life have disappeared due to reclamation projects.
Humans have been destroying nature at random and have exterminated numerous animals and plants without hesitation over the centuries. We also witness peculiar natural phenomena ― such as floods, tidal waves, typhoons, water shortages, air pollution and yellow sand storms ―becoming more rampant than ever before. We must see them as consequences of our own deeds.
The earth is a little, beautiful boat that is floating on a boundless expanse of water called the universe. Reckless economic exploitation of natural resources is an act that injures ourselves by damaging the boat that protects our precious lives.
As our ancestors thought, nature is something to which we need to pay due respect and stand in awe of. It is not a subject for development. It has been a long time since sustainable development, which changed the approach to nature from being development-oriented to being conservation-oriented, gained global sympathy. Developed countries have already been putting such ideas into action for several decades.
As we are well aware, President Lee became a national hero by restoring the buried Cheonggye Stream. However, we cannot know what goes on in his mind, as he is sticking with his idea of constructing the Grand Canal. It is certain that it will pose the worst threat to nature in the history of our country.
The press reported a few days ago that the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs had devised a plan to complete the construction of the Grand Canal within the president’s term of office by enacting a special law. The plan is contingent on the Grand National Party gaining a majority in the general elections.
Let them go ahead and try. They must not be afraid of the Korean people, who succeeded in overthrowing three military governments. An assessment of the environmental impact should take more than 10 years, if it is conducted as it should be. The current law stipulates that the environmental assessment should take at least three to four years. However, the Lee administration is trying to conduct the assessment within one year. Is it necessary to conduct the assessment in just one year to make Korea an advanced country? If their desire to build the Grand Canal is based on a firm conviction, they should be brave enough to make it a slogan for the April general elections and let the people decide for themselves.
President Lee should set a good example by behaving properly. Stop saying that he is a servant true to his master. People should use this election to express their strong opposition to the Grand Canal project.
*The writer is a co-representative of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and a professor in economics at the University of Seoul. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Keun-sik