Redress wrongs to avoid river of tears

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Redress wrongs to avoid river of tears

President Lee Myung-bak’s signature project to restore and revamp the country’s four major rivers has proved to be a colossal failure in terms of safety and water standards, according to a Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) finding. The announcement puts the pork-barrel project in a completely different light after the government spent so much time championing it. It also raises questions about the validity of the findings due to the sensitive timing of the release amid a power transition.

The government watchdog pointed to the shoddy design of irrigation waterways at a number of reservoirs around the four rivers, which have caused land erosion. Some are already showing fissures, raising safety alarms. The BAI also drew attention to poor water management because the authorities measured contamination levels based not on a broad scale of pollutants, which should have included chemical oxygen demand, but simply by testing the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) usually used on common wastewater streams.

The Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs and the Ministry of Environment defended the project yesterday. “There are no problems regarding the irrigation canals either in terms of safety or function,” the land ministry said. It also said the government has already redressed or plans to address the problems the board has raised. Meanwhile, the environment ministry said the initial testing of the water in the four rivers was aimed at measuring the BOD of biodegradable pollutants, adding that it plans to come up with comprehensive measures to improve the water quality after a long-term evaluation.

While the BAI sees the project as a complete failure, the government argues otherwise. If the board is correct, the government must make the necessary repairs and reprimand those in charge. But if the government is in the right, the board should act responsibly.

While agreeing on the necessity of the project, we have advised the government to pursue it in incremental stages rather than all at once.

If parts of the construction work were flawed because the government was overly hasty, such sections should be re-examined and redressed. Those who hid the truth and lied to the public must be punished.

If the BAI made a false report based on a political agenda, however, it deserves to face punitive action. At present, the project cannot realistically be stopped. President-elect Park Geun-hye said she will carry out a thorough examination, and any problems must be quickly investigated and fixed.
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