Flip-Flopping on the Grand Canal

      June 03, 2008 10:06

      "(The Grand Canal Project) wasn't included in the briefing to the president, since specific business plans have yet to be decided on." (Vice Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, March 24)

      "Related laws will be revised and enacted in August to pursue the Grand Canal Project, while construction will take place in stages beginning in April of next year." (Internal document produced by Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, March 27)

      "The public is anxious about (connecting the waterways), so it will be postponed... " (President Lee Myung-bak, May 21)

      "A substantial picture (of the Grand Canal Project) will emerge when a proposal by the private sector is submitted around the end of next month." (Minister of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs, May 30)

      These are comments made by key officials involved in the cross-country canal project, which is among the core projects being pursued by the Lee Myung-bak administration and also a topic of considerable controversy in Korean society. What's interesting is that their stances on the project veer from left to right as time passes.

      At first it appeared as if the government was temporarily shelving the project, but a few days later an internal document surfaced that overturned this. Afterward, when public opposition mounted over the proposed waterway, the government shifted its stance to pursuing a phased project of renovating the existing four rivers first and then pursuing supplementary steps. When even this plan drew fierce criticism from the public for seeking to bypass thorny issues, the government decided to choose a frontal attack strategy of aggressively pursuing the project again.

      But Cheong Wa Dae is said to have put the brakes on the project on Sunday after the head of a government committee preparing for the canal, and based under the land, transport and maritime affairs ministry, publicized the government's will to try to go ahead with the waterway. The head of the committee said on a television program that the government had entrusted five state research institutes, including the Korea Institute of Construction Technology, to study how to link the separate waterways and to manage the banks of the five major rivers.

      The government, which has been cautiously monitoring public sentiment and making conflicting comments, has recently been using every possible chance to repeat that it is considering the canal project with all possibilities remaining open. But it is questionable just how many people are still willing to believe what the government is saying, no matter how many of these promises it makes.

      This column was contributed by Hong Won-sang, from the Chosun Ilbo's Business News Desk.
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