By Bae Ji-sook
A researcher from a state-funded institute criticized the Lee Myung-bak administration for seeking to start the controversial cross-country canal project simply by renaming it as a project to revitalize four major rivers.
However, the government has dismissed the claim as being just a personal opinion.
The incident occurred when Kim I-tae of the Korea Institute of Construction Technology revealed on Saturday through portal Web site Daum.net's Agora page that the revitalization project was simply another name for the 3,100 kilometer-long Pan-Korea Grand Canal. Kim claimed that he disclosed information regarding the confidential project to highlight the catastrophe he believes the project will have on the ecology.
Kim said any sensible person could conclude that the project, if implemented, will become an ecological disaster.
The expert said he has been pressed to present evidence justifying the construction of the canal project but has failed to find any benefits whatsoever.
Kim's article on the Website was an instant hit as the site attracts tens of thousands of people every day. Internet users posted comments opposing the canal project.
Some observers said the angry responses were partly fueled by people's ``rage'' against the President's decision to import American beef.
``The article makes me cry. What can we do about such a deceptive government?'' netizen (ID: Gilajabi) said. Another netizen, Sansonampyeon, said the canal project would be a disaster. ``President Lee, I implore you to stop using materialistic logic to justify your project.''
Some worried about the career of the whistleblower. ``I admire your courage but I am concerned about your future, too,'' ID:Min said. They are holding an online petition to prevent Kim from being sacked or suffering any damage to his career.
At a press conference Saturday, the government claimed that Kim's allegations were just his personal opinion. Kwon Jin-seong of the land ministry said, ``We have never asked anybody to make up a theory on the subject. The project is confidential just like all other governmental projects are. We have already announced that the project will be implemented.''
The government also confirmed that Kim would not be censured for posting the controversial statement.
The Grand Waterway was the cream of Lee's presidential campaign pledges. The project consists of 17 constructions, including a 540 km Seoul-Busan waterway that would link the Han River and the Nakdong River.
The President said the canal would boost the economy by slashing logistical costs and creating many new jobs, but opponents warned against irreversible environmental damage and astronomical costs.