The Korea Herald

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Cultural heritage agency faces tough scrutiny

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 12, 2013 - 20:07

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The Cultural Heritage Administration has come under fire regarding a number of scandals suggesting internal irregularities, a lack of management skills and indifference to the country’s cultural assets.

With President Park Geun-hye ordering a probe and disciplinary measures, the Daejeon-based state organization is now conducting an internal audit and formulating reform plans.

Senior Presidential Secretary for Public Affairs Lee Jung-hyun on Monday briefed the press, saying President Park called for a thorough probe into the CHA, including the issue of the restoration of Sungnyemun Gate. Lee said that the President considered the issue to be extremely grave.

“We need to diagnose the problem and come up with the solution as swiftly as possible,” he said. “Cultural enrichment,” which seeks prosperity through culture including cultural heritage, is one of the the main slogans of the Park administration.

The presidential office’s remarks came on the day a Korean newspaper broke the news that cronyism inside the CHA was chronic and that some of its officials had been certified as cultural property repair specialists through preferential terms.

According to the report, CHA employees of more than 10 years were exempt from written tests until 2002, when civic activists raised complaints. Retirees with certificates for maintenance and “dancheong,” Korean traditional coloring on wooden structures, were hired by construction or landscaping companies attempting to win bids through their connection with the cultural heritage management office.

“We have been conducting an internal audit of the issue for quite some time,” said a CHA official. “Cheong Wa Dae’s order for a reform and discipline will accelerate the process,” he added.

Three of the former or incumbent CHA officials with the problematic certificates were also revealed to have been involved in the restoration of Sungnyemun Gate, which was recently revealed to have paint damage just five months after opening to the public earlier this year.

In October, the agency admitted the restored National Treasure No. 1, which underwent 63 months of repair work due to an arson attack, had more than 20 spots with flaking paint. It also revealed that one of the wooden columns sustaining the pavilion was split down the middle. A lack of professionalism and indifference among the so-called experts has been blamed for the damage.

“President Park commented on the CHA scandal ahead of anything else after her return from her European trip. It means she takes the situation seriously,” said a civic activist dedicated to cultural heritage issues.

Byun Young-sup, administrator of the CHA, on Tuesday vowed to straighten out all irregularities.

The presidential office, the ruling Saenuri Party, as well as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which manages the CHA, are in talks over reforming the heritage agency, starting with a large-scale audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection.

“The problem with CHA has been much talked about,” a ministry official said.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)