UPDATE : 2018.9.18 TUE 17:49
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People mostly support Park's reform plans though some have reservationsConservative, liberal, progressive media responses

President Park Geun-hye made an address to the nation on May 19, 2014 concerning the Sewol Ferry that sank on April 16 killing 288 passengers, including many students, and sending 16 others still missing.

▲President Park Geun-hye speaks to the nation apologizing in tears for the Korean Coast Guard and other offices of her government who failed to appropriately deal with the sinking of the Sewol Ferry vessel.

She apologized to the families of the victims with tears welling in her eyes saying that she was sharing the sorrows and pains with the families. She said that she sincerely apologized to them for the sorrows and pains as the President of the Republic of Korea.

She admitted that the government action in the early stage of the incident was inadequate and that there was much confusion in its effort to rescue the passengers.

Main points of her address were as follows:
-The safety-related government organizations will be reformed.
-The Korean Coast Guard (KGC) will be disbanded.
-The Ministry of Security and Public Administration (MOSPA) and the -Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries (MOF) will be substantially reduced with all the safety-related operations activities transferred to the new National Safety Agency (NSA).
-MOSPA will also lose its human resources management and organizational roles, which will be transferred to another new organization, the Agency for Administrative Reforms (AAR). The NSA and the AAR will be placed directly under the control of the Office of the Prime Minister.
-The MOSPA, once regarded as one of the biggest and most influential organizations in Korea, will lose its two key functions and will only perform the basic administrative tasks and personnel administration on central and local governments.

Responses to the President’s address to the nation were generally favorable in the opinions of the general public although there were some (eg, opposition political circles and media) who had reservations. Here are some of the media responses (conservative, liberal and progress-oriented):

Excerpts from the editorials of conservative media such as Chosun Ilbo:
President Park Geun-hye made an address to the nation on May 19, 2014 with her plans for addressing the problems of the Sewol Ferry Case. She apologized, “I am ultimately responsible as the President of the Republic of Korea for failing to properly deal with the Case.”

The President disclosed that the KGC (Korean Coast Guard) will be disbanded and that the investigation and intelligence activities will be transferred to the Korean National Police Agency and the activities of maritime rescue and security operations to the of National Safety Agency () newly to be formed.

▲Nearly two million people visited the incense-burning altars for the Sewol Ferry victims.

She also said that the security-related activities of the Ministry of Security and Public Administration (MOSPA) will be transferred to the MONS and the personnel and organization management activities to the OAR (Office of Administrative Reforms) to be newly organized under the direct control of the prime minister limiting the activities of the MOSPA to local autonomy administration. The MOF (Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries), according to the President, will also be reorganized transferring the activities of the Vessel Traffic Services Center to the NSA so that it can concentrate only on the development and growth of the ocean industry and fisheries policies.

The KCG, when the Sewol ferry vessel was sinking with hundreds of passengers inside, made no effort to have its personnel move into the vessel. In view of this, there is no gainsaying that it increased the victims.

There are a total of 32 different points to be checked at one ship before departure for voyage, but the KGC finished the checking within mere 13 minutes, which indicates that the KGC was negligent in properly performing its ship checkup duty.

The KGC has the number of its personnel and budget that are twice as large as those of 10 years ago. However, among the 14 commissioner-level senior officers there was no one who had the experience of the captain of a 1,000-ton class vessel. Most of the senior officers had had no sea duty experience either and the ones who did have the sea service experience did not stay on the job out at sea for more than a few months. Thus, none of them had any ability to properly perform the rescue activities of people from sea mishap or accidents.

Dissolution of the Korean Coast Guard, a shock treatment, should result in substantially improving the ocean safety administration.

The Government of President Park Geun-hye had reorganized the former Ministry of Public Administration and Security renaming it to the “Ministry of Security and Public Administration” placing “Security” before “Public Administration” for the new ministry meaning that the Ministry will pay more attention to the ‘security.’

However, among the minister and the two vice ministers and other Grade-1 senior officials at the new MOSPA, there was not even one person who had an expert experience in the handling of safety or calamity rescue activities. If the reorganization takes place as was announced by the President, the MOSPA will have only one third of its normal volume of activities. In other words, both the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the MOSPA will be relegated and reduced to the level and status of Cheong (Office) which is one step lower than Bu (Ministry).

President Park also vowed efforts to crack down on ‘Gwan-fia’ (bureaucratic mafia or Maifa-like bureaucrats) and declared that she will increase the number of government organizations by three folds and that control will be placed on the retiring officials getting a job at the related business companies or non-government organizations.

In the recruitment of public servants, too, the system will be improved with an eye to filling the vacancies 50% through public servant employment examinations and 50% with civilian experts. Ultimately, according to the President, the state examination system for the recruitment of government officials will be abolished.


There exists a link of inappropriate conglutination between government offices and private business enterprises. Government officials turn a blind eye to illegal practices perpetrated by the private business enterprises and in return for this undue favor the retiring government officials get a job at such business companies that have business relationship with the government offices.

And it was confirmed that the root cause of the Sewol Ferry Case was such an appropriate link between the government officials and the related business organizations. Such bureaucratic mafia must be eradicated from the government in order to make the Republic of Korea a safe land to live in.

▲Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries is also subject to substantial reforms following Sewol Ferry sinking and the corrupt practices unearthed in the process of investigation into the Sewol Case.

Control on the retiring government officials’ getting a job at the private business organizations with business relationship with the government is not proper.

There are views that such former government officials should be prohibited from getting jobs at the related private business organizations.

However, special attention must be paid to insuring that no politically affiliated or backed persons should fill positions that are made vacant as a result of the new control on the Mafia-like bureaucrats (former government officials getting jobs at the business organizations that had had relations with the government offices from which the officials had just left on retirement).

It might be a good idea for the government offices to increase employment opportunities to civilians instead of former government officials or those who have passed the state examinations for public servants.

However, the bureaucratic society is a very closed one where ‘group selfishness’ prevails and the highly paid bureaucrats (with the pay scale almost on a par with big businesses) are united with one another for the protection of their collective interests. Knowing this situation in the government offices, it is doubtful if truly qualified civilian experts would want to apply for a job at the government offices in such a closed state and environment at the government offices.

President Park said that the government will try to levy maximum extent of compensations from the business companies that have caused a safety accident and that for this purpose the Administration will seek legislative amendments to make possible the confiscation of properties and assets that the erring party might have hidden thorough the medium of a third party such as his/her family members or relatives.

The President has also disclosed her plan to revise the criminal law to make it possible to mete out hundreds of years of imprisonment to the convict as it is practiced in a number of other countries.

This type of heavy punishment to the erring parties appears to be appropriate considering the emotion of the people in general these days in view of the victims of the Sewol Ferry Case or for the proper implementation of the legal justice. However, this plan requires a prudent study and approach because it requires the change of the current legal system of the Republic of Korea, which provides that when one has committed a number of different crimes one is punished only for the crime which provides for the heaviest punishment. The proposition must also be examined in the process of legislation to insure that it does not conflict with the provisions of other laws.

▲Ministry of Security and Public Administration is subject to substantial reforms following Sewol Ferry sinking and the corrupt practices unearthed in the process of investigation into the Sewol Case.

It would be interesting to see how the bureaucratic society will respond to such new changes.

There are strong possibilities that government officials may be inwardly thinking that the President is overly reacting far beyond the range warranted by the seriousness of the cases. If this happens to be the case, there are possibilities that such public servants could make resistant activities with the passage of time.

Former President Roh Tae-woo tried to disband and abolish the Port Administration but had to give it up on account of collective resistance offered by the public servants of the Economic Planning Board, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Construction.

When the late former President Kim Dae-jung tried to dissolve and eliminate the Ministry of Maritime Affairs & Fisheries (MMAF), officials of the Ministry instigated various organizations affiliated with the Ministry to submit petitions to the government for a review in search of withdrawal of the dissolution plan, and lobbied the lawmakers to oppose the disbandment of the MMAF.

In view of the above, even if the President tries to push ahead with the reform plans on the strength of the support of the people and public opinion, it is important for the President to try to persuade the bureaucratic society in the justification of the measure. In this regard, it might be a good idea for the President to keep in mind that the foregoing instances could happen in the process of implementation of the reform plans of the bureaucratic society.

Most of the plans disclosed by the President in her address to the nation require the legislation of new laws or legal amendments. Various movement and resistance in regard to such plans will take place at the National Assembly. And in this case support and cooperation from the opposition lawmakers are a requirement.

If necessary, the President should personally meet with the representatives of the opposition camp and seek their cooperation.

The President’s plans and proposals are radical ones that require reforming of the organizations of the government that have been existing since the establishment of the Republic of Korea.

Until when does Koran society have to stand the repetition of such shock ideas and implementing such shock treatment?

Everyone of us should try to renew our determination to make this the last occasion for a shock treatment.

The President made a tearful apology and has proposed a comprehensive safety measure. While we should try to recover the last victim of the ferry capsizing from under the sea, it is about time we came up with plans to help the common people return to their normal everyday life.

President Park Geun-hye said with tears in her eyes that she was responsible for the inability to appropriately deal with the Sewol Ferry Case. It was the sixth time she had made an apology to the people over the Case.

At the same time she disclosed a series of plans for a sweeping reform and change in all the government offices, which had failed to properly deal with the Case. It appears that the statements she made in her address more or less represent all the suggestions and recommendations so far made by the media and various other segments of Korean society.

She also said that if the families of the victims wish the government could erect a memorial monument for the victims and establish a National Safety Day setting aside the 16th day of April for it.

The Sewol Ferry Case tells us that the Republic of Korea has been pursuing a rapid economic development and growth without a chance for looking about itself and gives us a lesson that we must now stop and look around ourselves. It also helps the people to arrive at a consensus that the Republic of Korea must change.

In this sense, President Park Geun-hye has just begun a long journey to build a ‘Safe County.’

▲Drowned body recovery operation continues for one and half months since the Sewol Ferry sinking on April 16, 2014.

Excerpts from the editorials of Kyunghyang Shinmun and other opposition-oriented media:
President Park Geun-hye said in her address to the nation on May 19, 2014 with an apology, “The responsibility for the failure to adequately deal with the Sewol Ferry Case rests with me as the President of the Republic of Korea.”

Such an address should have come earlier. However, the delayed direct apology was better than none. Her statement must be viewed as showing her assumption of an overall responsibility for the incident as the President.

Her address, however, is far from being sufficient in both substance or vision in curing the scars and trauma of the Sewol Ferry tragedy or in providing a turning point to effect a great change of the country for the better.

As she had said that she would apologize with an alternative improvement plan, her statements mostly consisted of providing of countermeasures and improvement plans, including the establishment of a giant ‘National Safety Agency’ and a thorough control on the so-called Gwanfia (bureaucratic mafia) with sweeping reforms in the bureaucratic society.

The Korean Coast Guard failed in properly performing rescue operations for the passengers of the sinking Sewol Ferry and the President is transferring and placing some of its activities to the Agency for Administrative Reforms under the direct control of the prime minister.

However, it is doubtful if her proposals and alternative plans are adequate to properly deal with the situation that has been developing since and because of the sinking of the Sewol Ferry.

It is not certain if the President’s reform plans come as a result of correct diagnosing of the situation.

Conspicuously missing from her address to the nation are details of any measure to determine the true cause of the incident, learning of the facts, punishment of those responsible for the incident and measures for the prevention of recurrence of such incidents in the future.

Her plan only has measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

Unless the true causes of the incident have been accurately determined, unless incompetent and irregular practices in the course of rescue of the passengers have duly been investigated and disclosed and unless responsible parties have been duly held accountable, any countermeasures not based on the findings of the above matters can hardly have substance and will only appear to be for display purpose. Such countermeasures would only be the product of armchair discussions among bureaucrats.

For example, the announcement of disbanding of the Korean Coast Guard that came at a time when the search operation for passengers of the Sewol Ferry rescue operation was still in progress, made angry the families of the passengers who had not yet been recovered.

The government is the responsible party for the incident and the result of investigations and preparation of remedial measures unilaterally made by the Administration will not win the trust of the people. That is why the bereaved families of the Sewol Ferry victims and the Korean society demand the formation of a pan-national committee to investigate the whole incident.

President Park said that she proposed the legislation of a special law and formation of a special probe committee with the members of the ruling and opposition parties and private citizens. They are welcome proposals, but it is important that they come from her sincere mind.
On the Special Prosecution Investigation, too, she said “if necessary.” Here she tried to appear as if she was heeding the wishes of the families of the victims, but in fact she turned the problem over to the National Assembly.

The President found fault with the Korean Coast Guard, the MOSPA, the Mafia-like bureaucrats, Chairman Yoo Byung-eon of the Semo Business Group and the bureaucratic society of Korea, but she left out Cheong Wa Dae (Office of the President) and the Cabinet from the list of those responsible for the Sewol Case.

There is no reference to any plan of personnel change for the better at Cheong Wa Dae or at the Cabinet. It does not stand to reason that these responsible people at Cheong Wa Dae and the Cabinet are not removed from their posts but are used in preparing the alternative plans and countermeasures concerning the Sewol Ferry Case.
The Cabinet ministers and Presidential aides, who act only in accordance with the notes they have made from the instructions of the President and those who never act or move unless they are instructed by the President, must go. As long as such people remain intact around the President, there is no use disbanding the Korean Coast Guard or preparing any crackdown measures on Mafia-like bureaucrats.

The President holds the key. She must change herself and cause changes to set straight whatever has basically gone wrong in her administering of the state affairs. This is the first step she has to take in making the Republic of Korea a safe country to live in.

If the President wants to truly console the families of the victims of the tragic Sewol Ferry Case and win the support of the people, she must change her style of leadership, doing away with her self-righteous attitude and her notion of Man’gi Chinram (“I have to see and do everything myself,” an expression frequently used in reference to the monarchs of the past dynasties of Korea).

The President made the address to the nation 34 days after the Sewol Ferry had sank but then she gave no opportunity for the reporters to ask any questions.

The address to the nation which the President made for the first time showing her tears, however, does not cause any big echoes. The reason for this is the lack of true change in the attitude of the President and the lack of her will to really carry out reforms in the state administration.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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