Vigilance on the rivers audit

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Vigilance on the rivers audit

The Board of Audit and Inspection has begun its evaluation of the four rivers restoration project. This is the Lee Myung-bak administration’s signature project and a total of 22 trillion won ($18.97 billion) will be invested through 2012, when the project is expected to be complete. Approximately 4.86 trillion won was allocated for the state-run project for this year alone.

The Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs is working to draw up contracts for related research and construction projects, based on the master plan the ministry created last June. The BAI has dispatched 11 officials to a temporary office set up inside the Land Ministry’s four rivers restoration project headquarters. The agency will intensify its examination of the project by sending auditors to construction sites beginning in the second half of the year.

Although we anticipate the audit agency will be thorough in its analysis, we can’t help but pass on several requests. First of all, the BAI should not undertake these inspections only to be lenient with the incumbent administration and its pet project. The four rivers restoration project has been controversial because some believe it is a cover for Lee’s Grand Canal project, while others say it is a “financial black hole that eclipses funds for welfare projects.”

The opposition parties, including the Democratic Party, have been pledging to “take all possible actions to stop the four rivers restoration project” from proceeding. In the middle of this kind of controversy, the project could be brought to a halt by corruption cases related to the contracts and sloppy budget plans containing duplicate or excessive expenses.

Kim Hwang-sik, chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection, said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last year, “In auditing the project, we will not create a sanctuary for or impose restrictions on it. If any serious problems are uncovered, we will consider putting a stop to certain parts of the project.” Now that his vow has been made public, the BAI must ensure that it conducts a strict evaluation of the project.

The audit is significant in terms of our ability to eradicate the deep-seeded corruption in the provinces. Many state agencies - such as the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs; the Environment Ministry; the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; local governments; and public corporations - are participating in the river restoration project, which was initiated to revamp all of the major waterways in the country. The project will require the implementation of many turnkey contracts. Construction companies based in the provinces subcontracted to carry out the work will want a cut of the funds, which will make it difficult for the audit bureau to conduct a proper inspection.

In addition, local elections are scheduled to take place in June, and it is expected that local groups will be replaced en masse.

It will be too easy for the project to fail if it is tainted by corruption scandals originating in the provinces due to a transfer of power following the elections. Now more than ever, the BAI must be vigilant about its essential role as the auditor of the four rivers restoration project.
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