Struggle for power over food center to be probed

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Struggle for power over food center to be probed

A city investigation has been launched into a power struggle over control of the distribution center that supplies food to hundreds of Seoul’s schools.

According to a document sent to the city council, a team of seven ombudsmen has been formed under the deputy mayor’s office to inspect the city-run center and determine if there have been any abuses of power.

“The mayor [Park Won-soon] ordered that the ombudsman team conduct a thorough inspection,” the city government stated in the document.

Located in Gangseo District, western Seoul, the center is under the Seoul Agro-Fisheries and Food Corporation and supplies food to 800 elementary, middle and high schools in the capital.

According to an inspection report that the JoongAng Ilbo obtained last week, the Seoul food corporation conducted its own probe into the center in March and ended up removing its advisory committee in May.

The report said that the committee, established to help facilitate the center’s business dealings with schools, had abused its power, often attempting to influence which subcontractors the center made supply contracts with.

“We heard that some officials in the [Seoul food] corporation asked to be allowed to inspect their own company,” a city government spokesman told the JoongAng Ilbo, an indicator that corporation officials had been battling for hegemony over the distribution center with committee members.

The committee was established in March last year after Lee Byung-ho, head of an agricultural association, became the chairman of the Seoul food corporation. Ten people were elected to the committee, many of whom were also members of agricultural associations. Its mandate was to figure out ways of running the city’s free school meal program, which the center operates, more efficiently.

The committee and distribution center started out well, holding 15 meetings up until February. The center generated 131.6 billion won ($117.4 million) in revenue last year.

After the Seoul food corporation shut the committee down, its inspection office said, “The committee is operating like a deliberative body, determining several actual policies that are related with the free meal program.”

An official from the distribution center said, “Committee members and some high-ranking distribution center officials came into conflict when they were setting the center’s criteria for designating subcontractors.”

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