The BAI's independence
The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) has never been so challenged. When the BAI Law was enacted in 1963, it stipulated that the government watchdog under the president has "independent legal status when it comes to its jobs." The law mandated no intervention and pressure from outside, even from the president. Its independence has long been protected in the appointment and dismissal of its civil servants, organization and budgets.
All that changed with the Moon Jae-in administration. The BAI's investigation of the feasibility of the government's early shutting down of the Wolseong-1 reactor — a symbol of President Moon's nuclear phase-out policy — faced extreme resistance from politicians and government organizations. In the National Assembly's audit of the BAI, Choi Jae-hyung, its current head, complained about "unprecedented resistance to the BAI" after the announcement of the results of its investigation was delayed. Last week, he said the BAI could make public the results of its investigation by Tuesday at the latest.
The life of the reactor was extended after the government poured a whopping 700 billion won ($610.8 million) to revive it. The government should have been very careful before rushing to dismantle it. But the lead-up to the dismantlement was not transparent, which is why the BAI started looking into the closing down at the request of the legislature last October. The BAI was supposed to announce the results of its investigation in February, but it has been delayed by eight months.
Resistance from officialdom came from all directions. The Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), a subsidiary of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco), did not submit related documents from the beginning. For instance, the KHNP presented to the BAI only a two-page summary of its board's 50-page analysis of the economic benefits of the shutdown. As a result, the BAI even had to conduct digital forensics to restore data deleted by KHNP staff. The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy exerted pressure too.
Pressure from ruling Democratic Party (DP) members went too far. The DP attacks the BAI over the trustworthiness of its investigation. In July, some DP lawmakers pressured Choi to step down, citing his "disobedience and political bias against the president."
The BAI must announce the results of its investigation as scheduled. The announcements will likely trigger a storm on the future of the government's nuclear phase-out policy. Nevertheless, they will certainly help minimize social conflict over the policy and restore the government watchdog's political neutrality.