11/11/2009, 00.00
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Seoul: majority and opposition clash over environmental policy

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The Lee administration launches the ‘Four Rivers Restoration Project’ worth US$ 20 billion to improve the environment, promote tourism and bring under control recurrent flooding and drought. Opposition Democrat Party says a conflict of interest, the administration’s “dictatorial” ways and a waste of resources taint the project.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – South Korea’s ruling and opposition parties are at loggerhead over the multi-billion dollar Four-Rivers Restoration Project. For the opposition the whole scheme is a dictatorial scam and the worst civil engineering project in Korean history. For this reason, it has launched a full-scale campaign to stop construction. For President Lee Myung-bak’s administration, the project will mean less water is wasted, water quality will be improved and the economy of local provinces will get a boost.

The ‘Four Rivers Restoration Project’ is designed to solve the problem of recurrent cycles of flooding and droughts, restore the environment, create new jobs and strengthen the government’s ‘green policies’. The overall plan includes land reclamation, the building of new riverbanks, small dams, cycling paths and the development of the tourist potential of the affected areas.

Chung sye-kyun, president of the Democrat Party (DP), slammed the Lee administration for its “dictatorial” and “unilateral” behaviour in the matter. For the opposition, the 23 trillion won (US$ 20 billion) project is both too expensive and unnecessary; an investment of a trillion won (US$ 865 million) would be enough to improve water quality.

DP spokesperson Woo Wi-yeong called the Four Rivers Restoration Project a “scam” by the ruling majority, which has refused to take into consideration the views of the opposition.

For DP lawmaker Park Ju-seon, the Four Rivers Restoration Project also violates the National Finance Law, the Rivers Law, the Basic Law on Environmental Policy and the Korea Water Resources Corporation Law.

The opposition claims that President Lee Myung-bak, aka the Bulldozer, is in a situation of conflict of interest, because he was previously involved in the construction industry and had promoted a canal project across the country.

However, the ruling majority is squarely behind the president and his administration. Yesterday the government allocated 19 billion won (US$ 16 million) to dredge and restore the four major rivers involved in the project, namely the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan Rivers, raising their riverbanks and building small dams along their combined 3,200 kilometres.

Prime Minister Chung Un-chan said that the three-year project would reduce water wastage, improve water quality and boost the economy of local provinces, creating thousands of jobs.

When completed in December 2012, the government says the rivers will be open to transportation and tourism, whilst floods and droughts will be controlled.

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