Park Jie-won, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, pledged Monday, We will take the path of opposition to the four-river restoration project jointly with five other opposition parties and the public. He was speaking about the annual parliamentary inspection of the government that began the same day. The river project has a budget of 22 trillion won (19.5 billion U.S. dollars) and is naturally a subject for parliamentary review and inspection. It is the inherent responsibility of the National Assembly to closely monitor and carefully check whether tax money is properly spent. Parliament must serve as a watchdog to check if the project is implemented in line with its purported goal of simultaneously buttressing the environment and economy, and whether it will cause environmental damage.
With the progress in the projects weir construction reaching 51 percent and that of sand dredging exceeding 30 percent, opposition parties should not stage a political offensive that virtually constitutes a demand for an outright halt to the project in light of the efficiency of the parliamentary inspection. The four-river project should not be held hostage by the audit of the government and paralyze the probe. The National Assembly has too many other things to examine in the inspection apart from the disputed project.
First, parliament must thoroughly examine the welfare budget for the people, which the administration has pledged to focus on in next years budget. The governments budget for the river project is 3.3 trillion won (2.9 billion dollars) and this rises to 7.1 trillion won (6.3 billion dollars) if investment by the state-run Korea Water Resources Corp. is included. In comparison, the welfare budget is as much as 86 trillion won (76 billion dollars). The Health, Welfare and Family Affairs Ministry studied 29 private organizations that received 80 million won (71,000 dollars) or more in welfare subsidies per year between 2006 and last year. The survey found that 27 institutions spent part of the subsidies for personal use or entertainment at bars and karaoke facilities.
The parliamentary inspection must also thoroughly investigate the massive debts owed by state-run companies, which will seriously burden the national budget. Between 110 and 130 public corporations under municipal and provincial governments are found to have wasted as much as 550.1 billion won (490 million dollars) combined in incentives paid to executives and staff over the past three years. The organizations include SH Corp. and Seoul Metro, which are more than 10 trillion won (8.9 billion dollars) in debt. Lawmakers must also carefully examine irregularities in personnel management, including corrupt recruitment of staff, committed by public corporations under municipal and provincial governments. Critics say irregularities in personnel affairs are apparently more serious at the municipal and provincial levels than at the central government level.
The ruling Grand National Party must also stop the practice of trying to blindly support and protect government policy. The party must discover areas where the people feel uncomfortable in different aspects of their daily lives, and come up with measures to tackle them. There should be no divide in roles between the ruling and opposition parties at the National Assembly. Many lawmakers have questioned the waste of tax money at every parliamentary inspection of the government, but such problems remain fundamentally unresolved more often than not. Lawmakers from rival parties must confess to pursuing pork barrel projects in their own constituencies and courageously step forward to reduce budget waste.