Blowing with the windThe Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) is the highest branch of the government that monitors malpractices in officialdom and tightens discipline among our civil servants. Thanks to the gravity of its mission, its independence is fully protected by the Constitution. But the agency’s actions truly surprise us. Unshakable principle and conviction have been replaced by its blind allegiance to an incumbent government.
On Jan. 2, the state monitoring agency accused Kang Young-won, former CEO of the Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC), of breach of trust. Kang had incurred 1.34 trillion won ($1.2 billion) in losses after its 2009 acquisition of the Canada-based North Atlantic Refining Limited (NARL) oil refinery, a subsidiary of Harvest Operations Corporation, at a much higher price than its market value. The case is deemed one of the worst fiascoes of the former Lee Myung-bak administration and its costly diplomacy to secure natural resources overseas. The blunder awaits a legislative probe.
But the BAI’s double standards make us wonder if it’s doing the job right. In April 2012, when the Lee administration was in power, the government watchdog was positive about the acquisition and even said it helped establish the foundations for higher competitiveness among our public companies in overseas energy exploration.
At the time, the BAI explicitly pointed out problems with the acquisition - an overly positive appraisal of the purchase, for instance - and other procedural flaws like a belated approval of the acquisition by a board of directors meeting. Nevertheless, the watchdog gave de facto immunity to the national oil corporation by punishing it lightly for those transgressions: namely, the temporary suspension of a team head.
Overturned inspections of projects are familiar from the past. Announcing in January 2011 the results of its own probe of the controversial four-rivers restoration project - enthusiastically pushed forward by the Lee Myung-bak administration - the BAI said it could not find any specific problems, adding that the project helped improve our water control. One month after Park Geun-hye was elected president in December 2012, however, the BAI made a complete about-face by defining Lee’s signature project as a “civil engineering project with colossal defects.”
In a New Year’s message, head of the BAI Hwang Chan-hyon intoned, “Without public trust, our agency can’t exist.” We’ll second that - and keep an eye on how the BAI does its job from now on.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 6, Page 30