Make no excuses; innovate yourself

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Make no excuses; innovate yourself


On March 26, the press room in the National Police Agency in Migeun-dong, Seoul, was packed. It was the day when the results of the investigation into the Sungnyemun and Gwanghwamun restoration projects were to be revealed.

Reporters expected that Sin Eung-su, the chief carpenter in charge of the restoration, would stand accused of spiriting away valuable lumber. But the investigators’ report surprised us.

“Six civil servants in the Cultural Heritage Administration have been confirmed to have taken bribes worth 42 million won ($40,560),” an official said.

The rumors of collusion between civil servants and certain builders turned out to be true. Perhaps Sungnyemun’s faulty reconstruction, which enraged citizens, was caused by chronic corruption. That same afternoon, the Cultural Heritage Administration distributed a press release containing an apology, although its true intention was ambiguous.

“The Cultural Heritage Administration sincerely apologizes for any concerns regarding the construction project, and we pledge to completely and fundamentally change,” it said.

But the statement was nothing but flowery language. If the organization was sincerely determined to change, the Cultural Heritage Administration wouldn’t have presented such a poorly drafted plan, which contains no efforts to transform.

When employee corruption was revealed, there was no mention of reinforcing management and supervision over them.

The reform plan also does not include any ways in which to improve the chronic corruption rampant in the field or backwards management of cultural property reconstruction, which seems to be the same as apartment construction.

“Government officials frequently said that the construction period must be met,” said a manager who was involved in the Sungnyemun reconstruction over three years. In order to complete the project by the end of the Lee Myung-bak administration, the construction was rushed. To meet the deadline, builders were hasty, which led to egregious errors and distorted wooden pillars.

The innovation plan announced by the administration does not demonstrate that it even considered the basics of cultural heritage reconstruction. It is full of clauses that emphasize the accountability of the builders, demanding that the individuals in charge of repairs be identified. Cultural assets are not mere structures but parts of history. When reconstructing history, sincerity and devotion are the most important values. Before discussing reform and changes in the reconstruction process, the administration needs to stop making excuses and reform itself first.

*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 11, Page 33


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