the afternoon March 7. (by Staff Photographer Ryu Woo-jong)
BY Huh Ho-joon, Jeju Correspondent
The government has set a bad precedent by forcibly proceeding with a national project in defiance of opposition from local authorities, residents and civic groups. The government began rock blasting less than 24 hours after a unanimous request to halt construction from Jeju Special Self-Governing Province governor Woo Keun-min, provincial assembly head Moon Dae-rim and the heads of the local ruling and opposition parties.
Analysts suggest that the government’s rash behavior stems from its worries that construction of the naval base could be placed in permanent jeopardy if it loses its parliamentary majority in April‘s general election. The opposition Democratic United Party has pledged in its platform to halt construction of the base and review plans for it from the beginning, while the Unified Progressive Party, another opposition party, has pledged to scrap the project altogether.
“It seems [the government] intends to make the construction a fait accompli by causing permanent damage to the rocks on the Gureombi seashore, because the project may become difficult after the general election,” said an official from a provincial civic committee working to stop the project.
Jeju provincial authorities are responding to the government’s use of force with strong measures of their own. After rock blasting began on Wednesday, the provincial government sent an official document in the name of governor Woo Keun-min to the Navy Chief of Staff giving advance notice of the cessation of work to reclaim public waters and requesting cooperation in stopping construction work. In the document, the province stated its intention to consider an order to halt construction until a definite judgment was reached on the question of whether it was possible for two 150,000-ton cruise ships to berth at the harbor, which had been an aim of the basic treaty for construction of the naval base signed in April 2009. It requested a response to the document by March 16.
Jeju Provincial Government said that an investigation by a technical committee overseen by the Prime Minister‘s Office had revealed that it was effectively impossible for 150,000-tonne cruise ships to enter or leave the port and asked that an objective and impartial simulation be carried out. The national government claimed that simulations conducted by the Ministry of National Defense (MND) from December 12 until last month, before the technical committee was formed, concluded that there would be no problem for such vessels entering or leaving the port. The government refused to conduct a review.
If the reclamation of public waters is stopped, in accordance with the will of Jeju’s provincial authorities, marine construction will become impossible and the entire project will be seriously set back. The national government‘s hard-line attitude, however, is that there will be no problem in continuing construction even if the province orders a cessation.
“The provincial governor could issue an order to halt construction, but if this order is judged to be unfair, it can be reversed by the minister of land, transport and maritime affairs,” said MND spokesman Kim Min-seok. If this happens, however, Jeju’s governor can file a lawsuit with the Supreme Court, sending relations between the central government and the local administration to their lowest point.
The voices of local residents who have lost their livelihoods are being ignored throughout this process. “The bidding to host the naval base itself went ahead without following proper procedures, and the government has eroded the trust of local residents,” Gangjeong Village residents claimed, vowing to remain allied with civic groups to the end.
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