President Park Geun-hye made a special address to the nation on May 19, 2014 on the Sewol Ferry Case with tears in her eyes out of sorrow and sympathy for the victims of the Case. Here is the full text of the address:
Today is the 34th day since the sinking of the Sewol occurred. All Koreans share in the pain and grief of the families that lost loved ones. As the President responsible for lives and safety of the people, I apologize from deep in my heart for the pain and suffering you have undergone.
I fully understand why you all have shared pain and outrage over the past weeks. Many students who could have been saved were not rescued. The fumbling response in the initial stage caused great confusion. Illegal overloading and other factors identified as safety problems were never prevented; I believe you have been frustrated and outraged for this
I, too, have spent sleepless nights in agony, thinking about the many young students whose lives had yet to blossom, the child left alone now after what became her last family trip and other heartbreaking stories of the victims.
As President, I feel a sense of sorrow and grief over not having been able to protect them, not having been able to make their trip safe. The ultimate responsibility for failing to properly deal with the disaster lies with me.
I will take this opportunity to make this country reborn so that their invaluable sacrifices are not in vain.
The Korea Coast Guard did not live up to its inherent duties in this ferry disaster. Had it performed rescue operations promptly and proactively right after the accident, the number of victims could have been greatly reduced. The Coast Guard’s rescue operations were virtually a failure.
The cause of the failure can be found in the chronic structural problems that have persisted since the founding of the Coast Guard. It has, in fact, neglected rescue and salvage operations, focusing on investigation and its external growth. Even though the Coast Guard has continued to grow in size, it has failed to secure necessary manpower and budget for maritime safety. Moreover, it has lacked adequate lifesaving training.
With these structural problems left unattended, we would not be able to prevent another calamity in the future. Thus, I decided to dismantle the Coast Guard after serious consideration. . Investigation and intelligence functions will be transferred to the National Police Agency while maritime rescue and salvage as well as coast guard responsibilities will be handed over to a soon-to-be established national safety agency. In so doing, professionalism and responsibility for maritime safety will be significantly bolstered.
The Ministry of Security and Public Administration ultimately responsible for public safety has not fulfilled its duties either. It will be divested of its core duties for safety as well as personnel and organizational issues. Its safety-related mandate will be transferred to the national safety agency and its personnel and organizational functions handed over to an administration reform agency to be created and placed under the Prime Minister. By this, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration will be allowed to concentrate on administration and local autonomy affairs.
The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, which takes command of and supervises the Coast Guard, is not free from responsibilities either. Its Vessel Traffic Services Center will be merged into the national safety agency. The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries will focus on fostering the ocean industry as well as preserving and promoting the fishing industry. In this way, the expertise of individual organizations will be fully leveraged, making it possible to carry out responsible administration of government.
A bill to revise the Government Organization Act reflecting all these contents will be submitted to the National Assembly in the near future.
My Administration has thus far continued with the reform process to normalize abnormal practices and systems in our society.
It rankles deep in my heart that I was not able to hasten the reform process and eliminate such wrong practices earlier, ending up causing great suffering to the people. The ferry disaster attests to how big a catastrophe can be brought on by deep-rooted abnormal practices, such as our cliquish culture and the government-business collusion rampant in our society.
If safety regulations, including ship inspection and safety guidelines, had been adhered to by the book and supervision properly carried out, this tragic disaster would not have happened.
Until now, the Korean Shipping Association, an interest group of marine companies, has been given the authority for marine safety management, and its senior positions have been customarily filled by retired government officials.
As long as the Government, which is supposed to regulate and supervise the safety of ships, and the shipping companies that are the subject of supervision have such a cozy relationship, it is obvious that no proper ship safety management would be possible.
An aged ferry built nearly 20 years ago was purchased and refurbished in defiance of safety. With a fabricated document, the ship was loaded with cargo whose weight was much higher than the permissible limit, but no one responsible for supervising the ship set the wrongs right.
This case of government-business collusion represents a chronic malady that has piled up layer upon layer over decades not only in the shipping industry but in our society in general.
I will do whatever it takes to make my Administration’s reform drive for the normalization of the abnormal a success. By doing so, I will certainly sever the collusive links between government officials and business people that promote cover-ups and whitewashing disregarding life. This will resolve the problems of the so-called bureaucratic mafia.
For now, civil servants will not be appointed as heads or auditors for civil service related organizations that are responsible for safety supervision, procurement, or approval-related regulations susceptible to conflicts of interest Employment by other organizations will be more strictly restricted.
Currently, there are regulations putting restrictions on the employment of retired government officials, but they are nothing more than in name only to the extent that only seven percent of the retired officials who were supposed to go through the screening process were prevented from being employed in the past three years.
To make matters worse, the Korea Shipping Association and the Korean Register of Shipping, which are related to the sinking of the ferry, were not even on the list of companies subject to the system that limits the employment of retired government officials.
In the days to come, the Government will significantly increase by more than three times the current number of organizations where the employment of retired government officials is restricted. Consequently, some organizations and associations will be newly subject to the restrictions.
In addition, the period during which employment is restricted after retirement will be extended to three years from the current two years. As part of efforts to check the practices of the bureaucratic mafia, in case of retired senior government officials, the entire duties of their agency, not simply those of their department, will be taken into consideration when judging the correlation with their future duties. By doing so, the Government will greatly enhance the effectiveness in restricting their employment.
The Government will also introduce a new employment history disclosure system for senior government officials, under which their employment period and positions will be made public for ten years following retirement.
The Government will immediately submit to the National Assembly an amendment bill to the Public Service Ethics Act, which will include the aforementioned measures.
Given the significance of severing the collusive ties of former and current government officials, the Government has presented the so-called Kim Young-ran Act, a bill to ban illegal solicitation and to prevent civil servants from getting caught in a conflict of interest, and the bill is under review at the National Assembly.
I urge the National Assembly to pass the bill as early as possible.
Korea? public service sector is now saddled with the problems of a closed organizational culture and complacency.
In order to survive in the competition of the 21st century that is all about creativity, it is necessary to carry out reform aimed at fundamentally overhauling the public service sector.
In order to eliminate the ill practices of the bureaucratic mafia and fundamentally reform the public service, the Government will strive to reestablish the sector as one that is characterized by professionalism and openness from the point of officials’ recruitment to their retirement.
To this end, the recruitment system will undergo drastic changes so that an increasing number of experts from the private sector will have opportunities to work for the government.
To facilitate the entry of private experts, the number of grade-5 government officials recruited through the open examinations and experienced professionals recruited from the private sector will be balanced to 5:5. In place of the state examinations that used to select many government officials at once in the past, the Government will ultimately establish a new system through which experts can be recruited when necessary and where needed according to their expertise.
As of now, there exists an open recruitment system that allows civilian professionals to be appointed at positions above the division director level. Notwithstanding, government officials occupy many such positions, and thus the public is criticizing its lack of effectiveness.
The open recruitment system went awry because each ministry and agency has operated its own selection committee. To address this problem, a central examination and selection committee will be newly established to recruit civilian professionals in a fair manner and assign them to ministries and agencies.
Together with this move, the Government will reform the system of job rotation, which has been continuously pointed out as a problem in the public service sector, so that the duty continuity and professionalism will be able to be maintained.
For officials who have expertise and devote themselves to the interests of the people and the nation, a better working environment will be created: due incentives will be provided so that they would be able to continue to work hard with greater self-esteem.
My fellow citizens,
The immediate cause of the accident was the dereliction of duty by the captain and some crewmembers as well as the wrongful pursuit of profits through excessive additions to the ferry and overloading.
Cheonghaejin Marine Company, the operator of the ill-fated ferry, entered the shipping industry by taking over an affiliate of Semo Group, which went under in 1997. The company, which went bankrupt because of its debts amounting to 300 billion won 17 years ago, made ill use of the workout program to write off 200 billion won worth of its debts. It was then resold to the original owner at a giveaway price, and the greedy pursuit of profits since then has led to the recent disaster.
This kind of practice must not be tolerated any more.
All profits of businesses accumulated in the process of seeking interests in a greedy manner while doing much damage to the people and their properties will be restituted and used as financial resources to compensate the victims for their loss. Those businesses will be forced to shut down.
To this end, the Government will swiftly legislate a law that makes it possible to seek and get back not only the assets of offenders themselves but also those concealed under the names of family members or third parties.
With regard to this accident, the Government will first promptly compensate the victims and immediately submit a special bill that enables the Government to exercise the right to indemnity against those who are responsible for the sinking.
By doing so, the Government will make sure that those who suffered indescribable sacrifices this time will not undergo additional serious pain in the process of receiving damages from the unethical businesses and offenders.
If the right to indemnity cannot be exercised in a proper manner, we would end up seeing a preposterous situation where tax paid with the sweat and blood of the people are used to compensate for the loss incurred by the wrongdoings of offenders or businesses.
With the many problems of Cheonghaejin Marine Company coming to light this time, many people are casting doubts on various special favors given to the company and its collusive ties with government officials in the course of its growth. If there had been any forces that stood behind the company, they would also be traced to the end. In order for such collusive ties not to threaten the lives and safety of people yet again, the Government will root out corruptive practices in every part of our society.
If needed, a special prosecutor will be appointed to get to the bottom of every detail of the accident and strictly punish those who are responsible for it.
On top of this, I suggest that a special act be legislated, which includes the establishment of a fact-finding commission consisting of the ruling and oppositions lawmakers as well as people from the private sector. I hope the commission will serve as a place for ruling and oppositions lawmakers to engage in discussions together over all matters related to the Sewol.
The irresponsible acts of the captain and some members of the crew, who fled first leaving hundreds of passengers trapped in the vessel, are virtually tantamount to homicide. In some advanced nations, those who commit felonies that cause extensive loss of human life are sentenced to hundreds of years behind bars.
In the days ahead, we will propose revisions to our Criminal Act so that, in this country also, strict punishment is given to those whose actions cause grave human losses, or whose malicious tampering with food endangers many. We will thus make certain that wrongfully gained profits are a profit to no one, and that those responsible for disasters of such a magnitude do not get off lightly.
So many precious lives were taken from us in this tragedy.
.. It is the duty of the living to make reform and a great transformation for the country so that the sacrifices of the dead are not in vain. If we cannot reform ourselves in a situation like this, we will become a nation that will never be able to achieve reform.
The Government failed to respond promptly and cohesively in this emergency because public safety and disaster management functions were scattered across various government agencies. Other problems arose concerning the central “control tower.”
To solve these problems, we will establish a national safety agency that combines the functions of existing safety-related agencies, streamlining the chain of command to allow for coordinated onsite responses to emergencies on land and at sea.
For emergencies on land, a system will be set up to coordinate a speedy and efficient response by the local fire department, local authorities and the related central ministries. For maritime emergencies, onsite rescue and salvage functions will be strengthened through the creation of regional maritime safety offices for the Yellow Sea, the South Sea, the East Sea and Jeju Island.
For disasters in the aviation, energy, chemical and telecommunications sectors, areas that are currently overseen separately by their related ministries, a special disaster management office will be opened to direct disaster responses.
In addition, a special rescue force complete with state-of-the-art equipment and the most advanced technologies will be set up for dispatch to the site of any disaster in any part of the country. This team will undergo repeated training of the kind used in the military or special police force and thereby strengthen significantly its capacity to take effective action during the “golden time” of rescue operations.
To ensure practically that all of these functions can be performed, the national safety agency will be given the right to prior consultation concerning the national safety budget and be allowed to allocate special revenue funds for disaster prevention.
Moreover, in order to make the national safety agency an organization of disaster and safety experts, it will operate an open recruitment policy. With strict limitations on job rotation, this agency will be fostered as a model for the changes that can be realized in the public sector through a partnership of experts and the people. I ask for the active participation of willing experts and other interested citizens throughout the country.
When the new agency is created, we will carry out an extensive survey for suggestions from the public and from related experts that will then provide a basis for the creation of a safety innovation master plan. We will also speed up the conclusion of the project to build a national disaster and safety communications network, which has continued for eleven years without progress. This way, all of the disaster response organizations will be able to work within a single communications network to mount a unified response and solidify cooperative efforts.
In preparing to come before you today to speak about measures for public safety and government reform, I listened to the concerns and views of numerous people. I spent past weeks in agony and painstaking contemplation.
The sinking of the Sewol will be recorded as a painful wound in this country’s history that will not be easily removed. Yet if we can go on, in the aftermath of this tragedy, to build a truly safe Republic of Korea, this will mark a new history.. Such heavy responsibilities are given to all of us.
We possess the fortitude and experience of having united together, whenever our country faced difficulty, to overcome whatever crises lay before us. Now we must rise up from our despair and go forward. We must set our country right and make it new.
I will work to rectify the wrong practices and the irregularities of the past and present and devote myself completely and fully to building a new Korea. I will take firm strides to enact what I have promised?the Three Year Plan for Economic Innovation, normalization of past abnormal practices, public service reforms and elimination of corruption.
The problems before us will not be resolved easily. But we will not cease our efforts. Together with the people, we will make a better tomorrow, and we will build a country that our children will be proud of.
In the days after the Sewol capsized, countless people dropped everything and rushed to the scene. Fishermen and civilian divers as well as donors and volunteers from every walk of life put their lives and work on hold in hopes that they could help to save even one more life.
After giving his life vest to his younger sister and getting her off the boat, Kwon Hyeok-gyu disappeared among the missing. High school student Jeong Cha-wung took off his life vest for his friend and then went back into the water to save another friend. Choi Deok-ha was the student who made the first call notifying 119 emergency services of the accident, but he did not come back.
Teachers Nam Yun-cheol and Choi Hye-jeong did everything they could for their students until the very last. Crew members Pak Ji-yeong, Kim Gi-wung and Jeong Hyeon-seon, chief officer Yang Dae-hong, and civilian rescue diver Lee Gwang-wuk spent their final moments helping to save lives. In the actions of all of these, I see the hope of this country. They are the true heroes of our time.
In order that we may honor the memory of the victims and be ever reminded of the importance of safety, I propose that a memorial be raised and April 16 observed as National Safety Day.
I pray once again for the eternal rest of those who were lost, and I extend deepest condolences to all of the grieving families.
Thank you very much.
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