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Aftermath of Jamboree: Political tug-of-war

Imminent BAI audit to scrutinize mismanagement of global Scouting event

World Scout Jamboree participants return home after the 12-day event, at Incheon Airport, Saturday. (Yonhap)
World Scout Jamboree participants return home after the 12-day event, at Incheon Airport, Saturday. (Yonhap)

As the curtains fell on the 25th World Scout Jamboree on Friday in Seoul, ending with a grand K-pop concert, the controversies surrounding the event are far from over.

Mired in issues including a persistent heat wave, inadequate preparation and typhoon-related disruptions, the recently concluded Jamboree is now at the center of the political blame game. While politicians argue over who holds the responsibility, efforts from companies, religious organizations and local governments across the nation have demonstrated a united response in support of the Scouts.

The official investigation into the Jamboree will begin with a probe by the Board of Audit and Inspection. The BAI is expected to launch an audit as early as this week to clarify where responsibility lies for the event's overall mismanagement.

According to reports, the BAI has begun preparing an inspection of agencies related to the event, such as the Jamboree Organizing Committee and North Jeolla Province, as well as supporting ministries including the Gender Equality Ministry and the Interior Ministry.

The official launch of the inspection will be announced as soon as details concerning the inspection team are determined.

Aftereffects of the Jamboree chaos have expanded to a political battle ahead of the regular parliamentary session in September, creating tension between the ruling and opposition parties.

The ruling People Power Party plans to focus on clarifying the responsibility of North Jeolla Province, the regional government in charge of the event that was held on reclaimed land of Saemangeum, but the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea is considering pushing for a parliamentary inspection, claiming that the ultimate responsibility lies with the central government led by Yoon Suk Yeol.

Rep. Chung Kyung-hee of the ruling party, who is also a member of the National Assembly's Gender Equality and Family Committee, said in a press conference on Sunday that North Jeolla Province should be held accountable, and claimed the province "only paid attention to the budget consisting of people's taxes."

She demanded a reexamination of the Jamboree venue's selection process, and called for thorough investigation into the measures the province had taken to address the problems that had been raised since the preparation period -- the lack of water, sewage facilities, drainage problems and the possibility of ground subsidence.

"Preparations for the Jamboree, which began in the Moon Jae-in regime, have been neglected for the past six years, only wasting the budget," said Kim Min-su, spokesperson of the People Power Party, in a statement released Saturday.

Ruling party leader Kim Gi-hyeon took aim at the Gender Ministry and North Jeolla Provincial Office during a Supreme Council meeting Thursday.

“Our party will carefully examine the problems of the Gender Ministry, which did not sufficiently play its role as a supporting ministry. We will also thoroughly inspect what the former and current governors of North Jeolla Province, who led the Jamboree, have done to prepare for the event," Kim said.

The Democratic Party fired back, arguing that the Yoon administration is trying to shift the blame to the previous regime, the Gender Ministry and the North Jeolla Provincial Office.

Rep. Kim Yun-duk of the main opposition, who is co-chairman of the Jamboree Organizing Committee, apologized for the poor preparation in a press conference Sunday afternoon, but added that it is not right to solely blame the Gender Ministry and North Jeolla Province.

"The ultimate reason (of the problems surrounding the Jamboree) cannot be properly clarified through an inspection attempt by powerful agencies which aim to cover up their faults and scapegoat weak front-line civil servants," he said.

Rep. Kim Yun-duk argued that the government, North Jeolla Province, related ministries and the organizing committee should all be thoroughly examined through a parliamentary investigation.

Rep. Kim Sung-ju of the Democratic Party demanded an official apology from the president, the resignation of Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and a parliamentary investigation. The Yoon government is most responsible, he said, summarizing the jamboree crisis as "a lack of preparation, poor operation and avoidance of responsibility."

He also stressed that it was the Park Geun-hye government which decided on the Saemangeum site in 2015, while preparation for the event was the Yoon government's task.

On Wednesday, the first day of the temporary parliamentary sessions this month, a plenary session of the Public Administration and Security Committee will be held. Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, one of the co-chairs of the Jamboree committee, is scheduled to attend. The battle between the ruling and opposition parties over mismanagement of the international event is expected to be fierce.

Whether the budget allocation was appropriate is one of the biggest questions to be debated.

According to the organizing committee on Saturday, the budget, which was originally 49.1 billion won ($36.8 million) at the time of the venue's selection in 2017, more than doubled to 117.1 billion won while preparing for the event. After the World Scout Jamboree kicked off and concerns were raised about hygiene issues and a heat wave, an additional 6.9 billion won was urgently allocated.

As participants were relocated due to the threat of Typhoon Khanun, additional funds were spent on alternative accommodations, food and transportation, leaving the final budget yet to be confirmed.

This contrasts with the Yamaguchi jamboree held in Japan in 2015, which had a price tag of about 39.5 billion won, according to the Japan Scout Association, although it was also held on reclaimed land.

The Gender Ministry also faces mounting criticism, as it was the main supporting ministry for the event. Minister Kim Hyun-sook, who co-chaired the organizing committee along with the culture and interior minister, is scheduled to attend the Gender Equality and Family Committee meeting on Aug. 25.

Kim has been severely criticized for the poor preparations, especially after she had claimed last year at the annual parliamentary inspection that there was "no problem regarding the preparation of the jamboree."

As a ministry that has been surrounded by rumors of abolishment — one of President Yoon's presidential election pledges — the Gender Ministry may find itself on the verge of shutting down again.

Meanwhile, companies, religious organizations and local governments across the country rallied together to provide some positive experiences for the teenage participants of the botched jamboree.

After Scouts left the campsite due to Typhoon Khanun, temples and churches nationwide provided accommodations, bottled water, snacks and alternative programs. The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism provided the government with 44 temples for 1,600 participants to stay in. Churches across the country also provided free accommodation for about 5,000 Scouts.

Major conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK, LG and Posco opened up their facilities to the Scouts as well. Hyundai Motor sent about 100 personnel to the Jamboree site to support the clean-up, along with supplies such as bottled water and temporary toilets.

After the original Jamboree program was canceled due to the typhoon, search giant Naver invited some 200 Scouts to its headquarters in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, on Thursday for a tour, while mobile messaging operator Kakao invited some 230 participants to its Pangyo headquarters on Friday.

Municipal governments across the country also prepared cultural experience programs for the Scouts to make up for the canceled programs.

By Lee Jung-youn (