Audit boss hints at tough pressure

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Audit boss hints at tough pressure

Yang Kun, the outgoing head of the Board of Audit and Inspection, said yesterday he tried to protect the public spending watchdog from outside pressure but that his efforts fell short.

Yang, who headed the national audit office since March 2011, abruptly announced he was stepping down Friday despite having about 19 months remaining in his four-year term.

In a farewell speech to the organization yesterday, Yang said it was his “personal decision” to leave the board, dismissing speculation that he was forced to resign.

“I believed that completing the tenure guaranteed by the constitution regardless of a change in administrations was a duty and an important responsibility,” he said. “But I came to the conclusion that continuing my job no longer has any meaning. This is my personal decision.”

Yang tacitly admitted that it had been difficult to defend the board’s neutrality from political pressure. But he stressed that he made no improper orders to cover up the truth while leading the board.

“The most important value in an audit is independence and political neutrality,” he said. “If we give up independence because of the reality on the ground, it will amount to the selling of the Board of Audit and Inspection’s soul.

“During my days in office, I have tried hard to stop outside pressure and blowback and improve the independence of the audit board,” Yang said. “But when I look back at this time of my departure, I realize that my efforts were not sufficient.”

Yang did not specify what kind of pressure he had to face.

After Yang said he was resigning Friday, speculation grew that he was leaving because of the mounting criticism on the board’s flip-flopping in its audits of the four-rivers restoration project, the signature project of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

The first audit by the board in January 2011 praised the achievements of the rivers project, implemented in 2009 at a cost of 22 trillion won ($19.7 billion).

The board’s second and third reports, issued in January and July of this year, concluded that the project had various problems such as collusion to win bids between construction companies, inflated costs and issues with water quality.

Since the watchdog’s conclusions were positive when Lee was in power and negative after President Park Geun-hye was elected, its political neutrality was questioned.

The Blue House said yesterday it regretted Yang quitting before his term was up.

“The new government retained him to respect his tenure, but he made the decision to leave,” Lee Jung-hyun, senior presidential secretary for public relations, said yesterday.

A Blue House official also dismissed speculation that Yang decided to leave as a result of his disagreement with the Blue House on filling a vacancy on the board’s council of commissioners. The seven-person council is the board’s highest decision-making body. Since June, the council only had six members including Yang.

The Board of Audit will tentatively be headed by an acting chief, Sung Yong-rak. Sung is on the council of commissioners.

The Democratic Party said yesterday that Yang’s farewell speech showed clearly that he was forced to step down as he mentioned “outside pressures and blowback.” The party said the Blue House must explain what Yang meant.

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