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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Sept. 16)

All News 06:51 September 16, 2022

'Deplorable' power project
Moon administration's renewable energy project saddled with waste, corruption

President Yoon Suk-yeol's choice of adjective to describe his feeling about the news that a power project of the previous Moon Jae-in administration resulted in wasting a huge amount of taxpayers' money was "deplorable."

"It's deplorable that taxpayers' money, which should be spent on supporting the welfare of struggling citizens, was used for corrupt acts by cartels with vested interests," Yoon told reporters on his way to work on Thursday.

He said that illegal acts will be handled through the normal legal system, suggesting legal consequences for those involved.

Yoon's response came after the Office of Government Policy Coordination (OPC) on Tuesday announced the findings that 261.6 billion won ($187.7 million) of government money was misappropriated under a power project led by the former administration.

President Moon spearheaded a renewable energy project during his tenure to reconfigure the country's energy infrastructure in favor of green energy sources, but there was a spate of criticism about whether such initiatives were viable enough to replace the current energy infrastructure. In particular, Moon's plan to phase out nuclear power sparked strong opposition.

The findings disclosed shocking details and raised many questions about what really happened during the Moon administration. The investigation identified 2,267 cases of irregularities in the government-run electricity infrastructure fund, mostly involving solar panels and other renewable energy.

The wasted 261.6 billion won accounted for 12.5 percent of a total of 2.1 trillion won poured from the fund to power generation projects. All the more bewildering is that those violations were based on a sample investigation of just 12 out of 226 local governments in relation to the misuse of the fund over the past five years.

As the Moon administration spent around 12 trillion won through the electricity infrastructure fund, the real scale of corruption cases and the total amount of wasted taxpayers' money is likely to shoot up dramatically when a total inspection will be conducted as ordered by Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.

When first briefed on the findings, Han reportedly deplored the fact that taxpayers' money was wasted in such a way.

As for the background of large-scale irregularities, OPC Minister Bang Moon-kyu speculated in a press briefing Tuesday that the previous administration did not invest enough time for detailed preparations as it pushed for renewable energy policy strongly. Bang added that massive irregularities of the projected seemed to have taken place in the process of execution in the field.

As the depth of corruption cases of the entire power generation project may be far deeper than the sampling figures and various types of fraud practices are said to have been deployed, a thorough follow-up investigation is in order.

There is no question that South Korea also needs to embrace renewable energy to help deal with the deepening climate change and aim to meet carbon emission reduction targets as a responsible member of the international community.

But the previous administration did not listen to critical opinions about its policy's possible flaws and risks. Even before the Yoon administration was inaugurated, there were a host of reports suggesting that some of the solar panel projects led to a waste of taxpayers' money due to lax oversight.

What is truly puzzling is why the Moon administration did not take any meaningful action to prevent such irregularities in implementing the dispute-laden renewable energy project and failed to carry out internal investigations into how the fund was executed to detect fraud.

To fix the "deplorable" corruption case, the Yoon administration should take all possible measures to identify irregularities resulting from the power project, and, if necessary, call for further investigations by the police and the prosecution.

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