Satellites’ sale an embarrassmentMugungwha satellites, renamed Koreansat, are the country’s first commercial telecommunications and broadcast satellites. The second and third satellites, launched in 1996 and 1999, reportedly were sold off dirt cheap after their service lives ended.
KT, formerly Korea Telecom, spent 150 billion won ($141.13 million) to develop the second satellite and 300 billion won for the third. KT sold the two to Hong Kong-based Asia Broadcast Satellite for 4.5 billion won in 2010, just 1 percent of its investment. KT explained that it sold the satellites cheap because their designed life spans have ended. But through contracts in technology and control-tower services, the state-run telecommunications company earned 25 billion won. The Hong Kong company is still using the two satellites for mobile and broadcasting services in parts of Asia.
What’s more controversial is that KT sold off the public satellites to a foreign company without going through formal licensing and approval procedures from the government. Under the external commerce law, sales of strategic products to overseas interests without government approval could be punished with a jail term of up to five years. The electronic communications law requires approval from the telecommunications minister for any sales of important electronic telecommunications facility.
KT also would have violated the space development promotion law and radio wave law. Choi Mun-kee, minister of Science, ICT and Future Planning, said in a legislative audit that KT broke four laws in selling Mugungwha satellites. KT explained it thought the satellites no longer fit the description of strategic products and therefore didn’t see the need to inform the government of the sales.
Even before questioning the legality and sales price, we are appalled by the lax government management of strategic public assets. KT informed their manufacturer - Lockheed Martin of the United States - of the sale of the satellites, but not the government. Even after privatization, KT runs the state’s telecommunications network, yet it did not confer with the government while handing over satellites that used Korean radio waves, land stations and software.
The government also cannot avoid accountability. It either lacks, or is ambiguous about, guidelines for managing aged satellite equipment. The Hong Kong company publicized the purchase on its Web site, and yet the government was not aware of the deal in more than a year.
KT must wake up and not repeat the same mistake in the future.