Come clean on canal scheme

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Come clean on canal scheme

The government has unveiled an ambitious multibillion dollar project to clean and upgrade the country’s four major rivers.

Few would argue with the aims of the project: to rebuild the country’s main waterlines and make water resources safer and more environment-friendly. It might also help accelerate the stagnant economy.

But despite the obvious benefits, the plan has nevertheless raised eyebrows. One issue is cost: Financing has ballooned by 4.7 trillion won ($3.8 billion) to 18.6 trillion won after just a couple of months, making many people skeptical.

This increase might be good news for contractors but it’s not particularly good news for the taxpayers funding the project.

Another problem for the government is that a lot of people think the four rivers project is President Lee Myung-bak’s grand canal plan repackaged. President Lee reluctantly yielded to opposition demands to give up his presidential campaign centerpiece in 2007 to build a grand canal across the country. The fact that the government appears to be rushing through the project with minimal public discussion makes some dubious about the whole affair.

If the government means well and stays true to the original purpose of the river project, it must first of all answer all the misgivings raised by critics. It should be willing to account for the concerns raised by environmental and research bodies and prove the program has no connections whatsoever with the canal project. And the public needs to know if the dam and riverbank construction plan will have any negative environmental impact on local ecosystems.

The government keeps saying the master plan has been through sufficient discussions already, but many taxpayers still know little about plan, even though they will be the ones footing the bill.

The government, which first laid out the plan last December, embarked on construction before it released the final outline. It offered a public report in April and then hurried along with local hearings and ministerial meetings. It’s no wonder few outside government are aware of the plan.

Unfortunately, the government is giving the impression that it is being pushed and whipped to expedite the project. Instead, it should continue with the construction work that needs to be finished before the summer rains arrive later in the season, but it should also make sure the public fully understands what’s going on.

We hope the government will follow strict environmental evaluations and other preparatory procedures as it proceeds with its work. After all, it’s not too late to talk with and listen to the public, whose trust President Lee needs.
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