Moon must stop itThe special act on Gadeok Island off of Busan city has shown how far the legislature will go to win an election. The bill itself is embarrassing. But it easily passed the Land and Transportation Committee and the Legislation and Judiciary Committee — and is set to be approved by the General Assembly on Friday. The ruling Democratic Party (DP)’s floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon vowed to make it an “irreversible state project.”
The Gadeok airport project was scrapped in 2011 and 2016 after it was first proposed by Busan lawmaker-turned-President Roh Moo-hyun in 2003. It was revived in 2018 after DP candidates had a sweeping victory in local elections in Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang. The project gained traction ahead of the April 7 Busan mayoral by-election. The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) also jumped on the bandwagon, making the project almost beyond recall.
The legislature entirely disregarded the lawmaking process. With the determination to open the new airport before the Busan World Expo in 2030, the project would be exempted from preliminary feasibility or economic studies as well as basic designing reviews. In case of the Incheon International Airport, the project went through four feasibility studies from 1969 to 1990 before it was decided to be built on Yeongjong Island of Incheon city. The airport opened 11 years later in 2001.
After various preferential treatments were offered to expedite the Gadeok project, the Justice Ministry raised concerns about its legitimacy and fairness. A handful of other government offices — the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Interior and Safety, Environment Ministry, Defense Ministry and Korea Forest Service — all had something to say about infringements to their regulations.
According to a report to the National Assembly Committee by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the construction would cost 28.6 trillion won ($26 billion), far exceeding the 7.5 trillion won estimated by the Busan Metropolitan Government. Much of the mountains on the island would have to be removed and sea reclaimed to host an airport, which will cause enormous environmental damage.
The idea of a new airport next to Gimhae Airport remains intact. The Infrastructure Ministry argued that it would be committing “negligence of duty” if it does not oppose the Gadeok project with questions of irregularities in the procedure.
Both the ruling and opposition lawmakers must come to their senses. But since there is little chance of their doing so, the mechanism of checks and balance must be activated. Since most of the government offices oppose the plan, President Moon Jae-in must step forward. He must represent the government, not a particular party. He has touted the “best-ever cooperation” among the presidential office, government and the DP. Then he should have no problem in persuading the ruling party to relinquish the project.