Outgoing officials’ trips stir ire

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Outgoing officials’ trips stir ire

With less than two weeks left before the end of their terms, outgoing governmental officials are crowding airplanes to far-off destinations for what they say are trips with educational and administrative purposes.

And some people are fuming that these publicly funded trips abroad are a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“What would these people, who are soon going to be out of their positions, have to learn outside the country?” demanded Yu Young-ran, 29, who lives in Songpa, southern Seoul. “They should just hold low-key retirement events to end their terms.”

The local elections took place on June 2, and the victors will begin their terms on July 1. While some of the officials leaving for overseas destinations were re-elected, most were not.

Seventeen officials from the Songpa District council left last Tuesday for a three-day trip to Japan, with a budget of 900,000 won ($745) per person as to make their way around Osaka and Kobe. The district council said the trip was for the officials to “learn from advanced cities and benchmark tactics for disaster prevention.” Eleven of those 17 officials had not won re-election on June 2.

In Gwangmyeong, the outgoing mayor recently spent 5 million won on a nine-day tour of the Czech Republic and Hungary, where he was to “learn about excellent policies in advancement,” said an official from the city.

And in North Chungcheong, six education board members - every single one of whom either did not run in this year’s elections, or lost - accompanied seven other regional government and education officials on an 11-day trip to Turkey that began June 9. The junket to “boost expertise” included tours to famous museums and palaces in cities such as Istanbul but just three educational institutions, one of them being Istanbul University.

The trip cost a total of 44.85 million won.

An official for the Chungcheong educational office said that the trip had been planned for the spring, but had to be pushed back while two board members ran for re-election. However, the regional committees to which all the board members belonged will be abolished by the end of August to make way for new regional education policies - a fact known before the trip was planned.

“It’s something a cow would laugh at, these last-minute efforts to develop educational policies that should have been developed while [the officials] were in office,” said Lee Chan-hyeon, Daejeon’s regional head for the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union.

In the face of the uproar, some officials have opted to stay put or pay for their trips - or at least part of them - out of their own pockets.

Outgoing Jongno Mayor Kim Choong-yong, who did not run for re-election, and three members of his staff left yesterday for Turkey to “learn about the commercialization of historic relics” only after he himself paid 3 million won of the 9 million won budgeted for the trip.

And 10 members of a regional council in Sasang District, Busan, passed on scheduled overseas training that would have cost 30 million won when the trip met with public censure. Only half of the council members will be in office after July 1.

By Christine Kim, Yang Seong-cheol [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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