(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 1)

Pinnacle of populism
New airport project denounced as pork barrel

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) has set a bad precedent for a pork barrel project by approving a bill at the National Assembly on building a new airport in Busan. On Friday, the controversial bill was passed through the Assembly’s plenary session in a 181-33 vote with 15 abstentions.

Both the DPK and the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) cannot avoid criticism for colluding in the legislation to woo voters ahead of the April 7 mayoral by-elections in the nation’s two largest cities ― Seoul and Busan. It is regrettable for the rival parties to go too far in their bids to win the polls.

The passage of the bill represents the pinnacle of populism. Building a new airport on Busan’s Gadeok Island is no doubt a glaring example of pork-barrel politics. The Moon Jae-in government and the DPK have spearheaded the project to appease Busan residents who have turned their backs on the ruling camp since Mayor Oh Keo-don resigned over sexual harassment allegations last April. The ruling camp has also been hit for Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon who killed himself following similar allegations involving his secretary last July.

The conservative PPP is now also under fire for trying to take its traditional power base back from the DPK at all costs. It should have made efforts to block such hasty and shoddy legislation. Much to the disappointment of the public, the PPP served only as a rubber stamp. It should reflect on its failure to check the Moon administration and the DPK’s mishandling of state affairs.

The rival parties should pay more heed to criticism by the Justice Party, a smaller progressive party, that the passage of the airport bill constituted the act of “vote buying.” President Moon and the DPK must have forgotten that they lambasted former President Lee Myung-bak for pushing for the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project which they described as shovel ready.

We call on the Moon administration and the ruling party to reconsider the airport project which is deemed unfeasible. The liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration proposed a new airport on Gadeok Island to meet growing air traffic to and from nearby Gimhae International Airport. But in 2016, the Park Geun-hye government decided to expand the Gimhae airport after conducting a rigorous study. There is no reason to reverse the decision other than political purposes.

More serious, the bill lacks any legitimacy, ignoring basic procedures. It has not undergone enough discussion and review. It only reflected Busan residents’ aspiration for a new airport without any national consensus. It is also irrational to allow the new airport project requiring more than 10 trillion won ($8.9 billion) without a feasibility study. DPK lawmakers also ignored concerns about flight safety on the island with high waves and strong winds. That’s why the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation voiced skepticism over the project.

The government and the DPK should stop their pork-barrel politics. It is imperative to scrap the legislation to prevent the waste of taxpayers’ money. If not, legislators should at least revise the bill to correct its grave flaws. Take action before it is too late.