Lawmakers scuffle over rivers

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Lawmakers scuffle over rivers


Lawmakers of the Democratic and Democratic Labor parties physically block GNP lawmaker Song Kwang-ho, chairman of the National Assembly’s Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee, from occupying the chairman’s seat yesterday to interrupt deliberations on the budget for the four-rivers restoration project. By Kim Hyung-soo

Opposition lawmakers blocked the ruling Grand National Party from presenting a bill yesterday on the budget for the controversial four-rivers restoration project, signaling a tougher road ahead for an already struggling year-end parliamentary budget deliberation process.

About 10 lawmakers from the main opposition Democratic and minor opposition Democratic Labor parties occupied the podium of the chair of the National Assembly’s Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee before 10 a.m., when a meeting called by the GNP a day earlier was supposed to be held.

At the meeting, the GNP planned to present the bill - called the “special act regarding the use of water-friendly areas” near the four rivers. GNP lawmakers, including committee chair Song Kwang-ho, tried to retake the podium amid a physical and verbal scuffle, but dispersed without introducing the bill.

The bill would allow the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs to designate areas within 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) of the four rivers as “water-friendly areas.” The bill would also permit commercial development of the areas by sub-agencies affiliated with the ministry such as the Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-Water). The DP objects to the bill on the grounds that letting the sub-agencies profit from commercial development of the area is akin to a special favor.

The four-rivers restoration project, which aims to restore the ecology of the country’s four major rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Yeongsan and Geum - is expected to cost 22 trillion won ($19.16 billion) over the course of the four-year plan, making it one of the government’s most expensive programs.

K-Water, a major participant in the project, is responsible for raising 8 trillion won of the total project budget.

Opposition lawmakers want the budget for the project slashed. The latest confrontation came a day after the Land Committee failed to reach a consensus on the budget for land, transport and maritime affairs, which includes the four-rivers project. That bill is now being reviewed by the Budget and Settlement Committee.

The scuffle between the parties has led the National Assembly to miss its constitutional deadline of Dec. 2 for passing next year’s budget. The projected budget for 2011 is 309.6 trillion won, up 5.6 percent from this year.

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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