Four-rivers plan used to keep canal project alive

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Four-rivers plan used to keep canal project alive

The controversial four-rivers restoration project, a major construction plan implemented by the Lee Myung-bak administration, was created in order to keep alive an earlier project to build a cross-country canal, said the Board of Audit and Inspection yesterday after months of investigation into the faulty project.

This is following an inspection process carried out between January and March of this year by the Board of Audit, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Fair Trade Commission into the four-rivers restoration project, a signature project implemented in 2009 which was budgeted at a cost of 22 trillion won ($19.7 billion).

The Lee administration had to scrap plans to build a giant canal to connect Seoul and Busan, dubbed the Pan-Korea Grand Waterway, in June 2008.

It was met with fierce opposition by the public that the construction project would harm the environment and lose money.

But according to its investigation after a January reporting calling the construction work on the project “faulty,” the Board of Audit said yesterday that the Ministry of Transport followed Lee’s orders to fold the cross-country canal project into the four-rivers project, a 2007 presidential campaign pledge.

In February 2009, the Transport Ministry received a notice from the President’s Office which said “Depending on societal changes, be prepared for the grand waterway project to start moving again” as they were drawing up a master plan for the four-rivers project, said the board.

The board said that because the master plan of the four-rivers project was designed in order to incorporate the canal project, this led to an influx of problems such as collusion to win bids between construction companies, inflated costs to run the project and water quality standard issues.

Prosecutors in May launched a full-fledged investigation over allegations of collusion to win bids for the four-rivers project and raided the offices of 25 local construction companies.


BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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