Hands off the belt, please

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Hands off the belt, please

A government committee in charge of establishing an international science and business belt held its first meeting yesterday. Considering the committee’s myriad of responsibilities, including the crucial question of where it should be built, it is getting a lot of deserved attention.

But worrying rumors are being spread, including one that the government has decided to move the project around to numerous locations, and another that it wants a “triangular belt” around three cities, Daejeon, Daegu and Gwangju. One rumor insists that the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has already proposed such ideas to the Blue House.

When the Lee Myung-bak administration backtracked a week ago on its promise to build a new international airport in the southeastern region, some in the media reported that the government intended to award the science and business belt to Daegu and North Gyeongsang to compensate them for the lost airport. We hope these are totally groundless rumors.

The 3.5-trillion-won ($3.2 billion) science-belt project is supposed to be a visionary national project to increase our sophistication in science - which still lags behind other developed countries - and to produce Nobel Prize laureates.

If that’s the case, the government must primarily take efficiency into consideration in its location selection process. This project should not be used as a means to provide a political windfall to one region just to say sorry for a broken government promise. Nor should it be used as a tool to try and balance out past uneven development of the country’s different regions. It is not acceptable for the government to use a project as important as the science belt as a political football.

President Lee has repeatedly vowed he will leave the decision in the hands of scientists. The prime minister also flatly refused to use the project as compensation for the axed airport project. If their words are true, the government should maintain neutrality and not meddle with the relevant subcommittees, which are comprised of civilian scholars, and stand back and let them hammer out the best course.

The government shouldn’t repeat the airport fiasco. News reports said the government had already decided to scrap the project even before the civilian evaluation team started its job. The decision to cancel the airport may have been economically sensible, but suspicions about how the decision was made have been ugly. That shouldn’t happen again.
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