Pork-barrel airports

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Pork-barrel airports

Because a host of airports in small towns and cities are left idle due to lack of demand, the government has set out to restructure the deficit-running public projects.

The government decided to turn the Yangyang city airport, where regular flights ceased last year, into a repair and maintenance platform for small aircraft.

The unused Uljin Airport, whose opening has been put off for five years due to lack of demand, will be recast as a pilot training center.

The four airports in Gwangju, Daegu, Pohang and Sacheon will be closed to the public and put to use by the military. Other airports running in the red will be sold off.

Building airports had been a popular campaign commitment in past elections, resulting in years of deserted runways, ghost airport buildings and idle airport staff. They can no longer be supported by taxpayers.

The Yangyang Airport was constructed during the Kim Young-sam administration at a cost of 350 billion won ($253.05 million). That airport in mountainous Gangwon Province lost its aviation function when regular flights completely closed down last October, but continued to retain a staff of 11 and spend 27 million won a day for maintenance.

The Kim Dae-jung administration gave the go-ahead to the construction of Uljin Airport that was completed by 2004 at a cost of 132 billion won. The airport was never opened to the public because there weren’t enough passengers for regular flights.

The government has wasted billions of won constructing unnecessary airports that have squandered taxpayer money.

The failure of local airports well demonstrates how politically led public works projects can bring disastrous losses and waste to the country’s economy and people.

The government should do its utmost to minimize the losses and make the most of the facilities.

Most importantly, the airport lesson should be studied wisely so that pork-barrel projects are no longer exploited by politicians and motivated by self-interest.

It is vital that the government never forget that it is the taxpayers who fund public works, not political parties. Local governments also must prioritize and consider the national interest before fighting for budget appropriations.

Politicians should stop touting projects aimed solely at winning the votes of their constituents.

To make sure this sinks in, all taxpayers should watch closely how their money is being spent.
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