Up a creek on four river planThe Catholic Church of South Korea has officially spoken out against the government’s ambitious four river project. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea said in a statement issued over the weekend that the church was “seriously concerned about potentially deadly environmental fallout from public works on the four rivers.” For one of Korea’s largest religious sects to make such a statement is no small matter.
We have in principle supported the government’s multibillion-dollar project to rebuild the four major river systems - the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan. We urged the government to ensure that the mammoth public works plan fulfills both environmental and developmental goals and requirements, reinforcing the riverbanks to address water shortages and flood control and dredging sediment from hundreds of river miles to clean up the waterways. We also advised the government to exercise patience and endeavor to talk thoroughly with the opposition and with civic groups that oppose the project.
But the government bulldozed ahead with the project nevertheless, giving the offensive impression that it pays no heed to public concern. It raced through the preliminary feasibility studies required for all immense state projects as well as environmental evaluations. It is even suspected of having skipped the important experimental simulation test. No wonder critics suggest that the government’s real goal is to finish construction before the president completes his term in three years rather than to do the work properly.
Some of the arguments by opposition parties and civilian groups may be extreme, and may end up being instrumental in a campaign offensive ahead of the June 2 gubernatorial elections. There are some who would question the motive behind the Catholic Church’s statement because of its timing. But the government backed itself into this corner by rubber-stamping the legislation and pushing ahead with a contentious plan without truly working to persuade the opposition. And now it has driven one of the largest and most influential religions in the world to join them.
The axiom still holds: Better late than never. The government should go back and talk to the public about the project. It should faithfully abide by the procedures and processes required by the regulations. The deadline can be pushed back if necessary. For a project as enormous and sensitive as this one, there should be no hurry.