Public left out of river debate

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Public left out of river debate

Chung Jong-hwan, the minister of land, transportation and maritime affairs, took time to speak about the controversial state project of redesigning the country’s four major waterways in the presence of a group of Grand National Party politicians that steadfastly support President Lee Myung-bak.

The government is now nearing the Nov. 2 deadline for legislative voting on next year’s fiscal budget, which includes funding for the river project.

Chung, who is spearheading the plan, needs to seek out more supporters, as the opposition is poised to attack spending on the 10-year project.

But the government should seriously reflect on whether backing from the ruling party is enough to push forward this multibillion-dollar project, which a majority of the populace is against. It is the public, not just members of the ruling party, that urgently needs to be persuaded as to the benefits of this plan.

Recent polls reflect the sour public sentiment on this issue. A survey by a local paper found that 55.2 percent of respondents oppose the move compared to just 32.7 percent that support it. In a separate poll, 56.1 percent wanted to halt the project while 29.7 percent said it should continue. Another 14.2 percent said they couldn’t decide what was best either way.

Public opinion can, as we know, be fluid. Still, the government can appear condescending and insincere if it makes little effort to win over the people.

President Lee’s biggest projects - redesigning the Sejong City plan and reinventing the country’s major river lines - have long stirred up controversy, and yet he has not once elaborated on these projects to the public.

During his numerous press appearances, Lee sidestepped the two issues whenever they came up. His actions stand in stark contrast to those of U.S. President Barack Obama, who telephoned members of Congress while campaigning for his health care reform agenda.

Many opposition politicians do in fact agree that some rivers need to be redeveloped to improve water quality.

If the president can’t take the time to talk to the public about these issues and reach out to those against it, his minister should do the job instead. In a recent press conference, the government simply repeated its call for the opposition to approve the budget.

The public, however, is still waiting for some explanation as to why the country urgently needs to fund such a massive, questionable project.
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