Leak found in Seoul's inter-Korean cooperation budget

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Leak found in Seoul's inter-Korean cooperation budget

Some of the more than 100 billion won ($84.5 million) of the Seoul Metropolitan Government's budget that had been set aside for "inter-Korean cooperation" for 10 years during the term of late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was found to have flowed into civic groups attended by some members of the city's Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Committee.
 
According to data on the capital’s inter-Korean exchange and cooperation project released by Rep. Kim Seok-ki of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, the Seoul Metropolitan Government allocated 105.9 billion won of its budget from 2011 to 2020 toward inter-Korean cooperation, including the creation of an inter-Korean exchange and cooperation fund.
 
The budget was allocated in accordance with the Ordinance on Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation and the Ordinance on Peace and Unification Education.
 
In particular, related budgets burgeoned in 2019 when inter-Korean relations were strained. The budget for inter-Korean cooperation, which was around 7.1 billion won in 2018, increased more than fivefold to 40.45 billion won in 2019. A budget of 23.64 billion won was set aside in 2020.
 
In February 2019, the summit between the United States and North Korea in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended without a deal, and in June 2020, North Korea destroyed the Joint Liaison Office in Panmunjom.
 
“[Even within the Seoul Metropolitan Government,] there were concerns over former Mayor Park speeding up the inter-Korean exchange project despite the ties between the two Koreas being deadlocked,” an official from Rep. Kim’s office said.
 
Except for humanitarian aid, such as food sent to North Korea through the United Nations, the budget was concentrated on civic groups that have been engaged in related activities.
 
In particular, a number of organizations attended by members of Seoul's Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Committee were included among the civic groups that have received funds from Seoul's budget over the past three years.
 
The Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Committee, or cooperation committee for short, is in charge of operating and managing the inter-Korean exchange and cooperation fund and in charge of supporting cooperation projects.
 
According to data from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, there were eight cases where these civic groups received budget funds from the capital between 2019 and 2021 — with a total received money reaching around 2.7 billion won.
 
For example, the civic group "Korean Sharing Movement," which aims to carry out humanitarian aid and promotes more active nongovernmental exchange projects with North Korea, was selected to receive funding from the city for three of its projects from 2020 to 2021 — such as the Pyongyang Travel School project — and received a total of 452 million won. At that time, a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Government's cooperation committee surnamed Koo, who attended the project deliberation, served as a policy member of the civic group.
 
In addition, Ms. Shin, secretary general of the North and South Korean Historians Council — which received 1.74 billion won from Seoul for three years for the purpose of the "Joint Excavation Project of General Yi Sun-shin” — worked as a member of the cooperation committee since 2018.
 
Ms. Choi, secretary general of the organization "Okedongmu Children in Korea," which received 195 million won in support for this year's "Online Fair for Peace Education on the Korean Peninsula," has also been a member of the cooperation committee since 2017.
 
In particular, millions of won were also given to a civic group attended by Moon Chung-in, a former special presidential advisor for unification, foreign affairs and national security and current chairman of the think tank Sejong Institute, who served as the head of the Seoul cooperation committee from Oct. 2019 until April this year.
 
During that period, the "Korea Peace Forum" was selected twice by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in its civic participatory contest for education projects for the purpose of inter-Korean exchanges hosted by the city, and received a total of 32 million won.
 
The "Korea Logistics Forum," which Moon had worked for as an advisor, was also selected for the contest during the same period and received 17 million won.
 
Meanwhile, some civic groups that received these funds included organizations with little relevance to North Korea, such as urban agriculture, youth job creation and religion-based education.
 
“[Members from Seoul’s Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Committee] created a league of their own and impaired fairness to fill their own stomach, and wasted taxpayers’ money on insufficient performance with an excessive budget,” Rep. Kim said. “The Seoul Metropolitan Government should fully review the structure of the project and hold those who wasted the taxes accountable.”

BY SUNG JI-WON, SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]
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