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Where Are the Government Projects Going?

Posted February. 04, 2005 22:52,   


The controversial tunnel construction project for the Kyeongbu Express Railway through Mount Cheonseong has avoided developing into the worst-case scenario after the government and the Buddhist nun Jiyul have agreed on a three-month environmental impact study. Nonetheless, the agreement is a bitter precedence in that the government’s consistency in policies has been undermined.

Another Step Backward for the Government-

On February 4, an official at the prime minister’s office said, “We didn’t have much choice,” which means that when Jiyul risks her own life by continuing a hunger strike, the government cannot afford to insist on doing nothing. In fact, if one takes a closer look at the whole matter, one would have to admit that the government did indeed contribute to the dispute. In December 2002, with the presidential election just ahead, then presidential candidate Roh Moo-hyun made a pledge to review the entire construction plan and to even consider the cancellation of it.

The pledge provided an excuse for some, including Jiyul, to persistently demand that the government “cancel the tunnel construction and fulfill the presidential promise.” President Roh got stranded and things have gone haywire. The president ordered to establish a committee to review the tunnel construction and then to stop the plan. When the construction later began, the plan had to be once again stopped due to Jiyul’s fasting. The matter turned into a legal fight, but the construction was launched yet again.

For the 100 days Jiyul had been fasting, Cheong Wa Dae stepped back and passed the “bad guy” role to the prime minister’s office.

In early 2003, when light was first shed upon the Mount Cheonseong tunnel construction, President Roh personally ordered the suspension of the construction and another round of negotiations. At that time, Senior Secretary to the President for Civil Affairs Moon Jae-in met Jiyul to negotiate the dispute. However, as Cheong Wa Dae got involved in virtually every key social issue, President Roh began being held responsible for those matters. Following that, from the latter part of 2004 onward, the prime minister’s office and each ministry have been encouraged to solve problems on their own.

The Government’s Intentions-

The harshest comment to the government is this one: “Are you going to back off again if someone opposes to other government plans by going on a hunger strike like this time?”

Senior Secretary to the Prime Minister for Civil Affairs Nam Young-ju revealed his predicament, saying, “If something ever happens to Jiyul, no one can be sure that the construction will progress smoothly.”

For the moment, the government intends to favorably cooperate in the environmental impact study. The government reportedly did not rule out accepting the inspection group’s demands if it decides to ask for the mountain not to be blasted. Senior Secretary Nam noted, “If the inspection team reaches a complete agreement, the government could well halt the construction.”

But the government surely has something other than that on its mind. The calculation is that because the inspection team consists of half government experts and half environmental groups’ experts, a 100 percent agreement will be hardly achievable. When that deadlock comes, the government plans to turn the matter over to the Supreme Court. That transfer is possible because Jiyul has filed for provisional disposition of the construction against the Supreme Court. The case is still pending.

Senior Secretary Nam stressed, “If an agreement is beyond our reach, we must resort to the Supreme Court. We should accept the court’s decision.”

Yong-Gwan Jung Jung-Hun Kim yongari@donga.com jnghn@donga.com