Belatedly, the National Assembly is opening an extraordinary session on Friday. With so many bills and agenda items sitting on its calendar, the legislature will have to close the session on March 2 only to open another 10-day session the next day, as agreed by rival parties.
The National Assembly has remained closed since the ruling Grand National Party rammed the administration’s 2011 budget request through the opposition Democratic Party’s barricade of resistance in December. Ending a squabble over who was responsible for the clash at long last, the rival parties have finally agreed on a legislative schedule.
The rival parties, which have agreed to put 38 bills to votes on the first day of the session, have more than 100 bills waiting to be acted upon. In addition to their usual lawmaking job, they will also have to address so many pending issues. The most urgent among them is the contamination of ground water as a result of burying diseased animals.
Since the first case of foot-and-mouth disease was reported in North Gyeongsang Province last November, more than 3 million cattle and pigs have been culled and buried. In addition, more than 5 million chickens and ducks have met the same fate since an outbreak of avian influenza near the end of last year.
The impact of animal diseases on the nation’s economy has been enormous. The government has spent 2 trillion won on culling animals exposed and presumed to be exposed to the diseases, burying them and subsidizing farmers who have sustained the losses. No less grave is the crumbling of the livestock industry.
But of greater concern to many nearby residents is the proven or potential pollution of ground water by the leakage from some of the burial sites, which they fear may pose a major threat to their health.
According to a news report, municipalities have dug 4,600 pits for the burial of culled animals throughout the nation. But in many cases, they reportedly did so in violation of the restrictions, including a ban on burying culled animals near waterways and reservoirs, on slopes presumed to be exposed to the risk of a landslide and in other hazardous areas.
Even more serious is an allegation that contaminated water is flowing into the upstream of a river where water is collected for its treatment as tap water. If proven correct, it will be politically explosive.
A preliminary inspection by the Ministry of Environment shows 16 pits pose a threat of leakage, making it possible for bodily fluids from the slaughtered animals to pollute ground and tap water. The ministry also says another 23 are susceptible to landslides. Against this backdrop, the Democratic Party has proposed an inspection of dump sites by the National Assembly before the process of revising relevant laws is launched to ensure safer burials.
To the chagrin of many residents exposed to the risk of drinking contaminated water, however, the Grand National Party is opposed to the proposed inspection tour of burial sites. The ruling party, accusing the opposition of attempting to make the most out of the scandal, instead offers to start the process of revising the laws immediately.
Of course, the opposition party will conceivably launch an all-out offensive against the administration and its party in an attempt to get the most out of what it regards as hazardous burials ahead of the April 27 parliamentary by-elections. Nonetheless, it stands to reason that findings from the proposed inspection of burial sites should be reflected in the process of revising the relevant laws.
For its part, the administration will have to share all information necessary with a fact-finding mission when it is organized. The last thing it is advised to do is cover up any misdeed.