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Tragic ferry disaster caused by lack of processes

Posted May. 02, 2014 01:53,   


The Korean people’s distrust against the government and the presidential office seems now directed toward the president. Regarding the president’s apology for the Sewol ferry accident, many people think that it was not appropriate in both form and substance. In particular, disappointment among those who supported President Park Geun-hye in the last presidential election is remarkable.

One incumbent minister said, “A Cabinet meeting is an internal meeting. If (the president) had wanted to address to the public, (she) should have used the press room. Looking at her ignoring the form and substance and only making an apology, I felt arrogance.” A professor at a private university said, “The problem is the (wrong) understanding, which regards making an apology as a political act. Though (the president) may think that she will be held responsible for everything and her authority is severely damaged once offering an apology, the president is also a human being in the end. All the people feel like to cry. If she holds the hands of the bereaved families and sheds tears, the grudges in their hearts will be eased.” A woman in her forties said, “What (the president) rebuked public officials for was not wrong, but it didn’t really touch my heart. It is probably because I feel doubtful about whether the president sympathizes with the victims from the heart.”

A marketing executive at a large company said, “The problems of the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae and the bureaucratic society represented by their hierarchical structure and ‘provider’s mindset’ had not been found under normal circumstances, but facing the emergency, the problems have clearly been disclosed.” “Understanding what the viewpoint of the people is very difficult. The president should make enormous efforts by herself. She should continuously talk with the public and listen to them. She also needs just and brave secretaries who can deliver the public sentiment without any adjustments. In a Cabinet meeting where the president speaks alone and ministers only write down what she says, the public opinion cannot be properly delivered and measures to overcome the crisis cannot be developed.”

“What have been pointed out as problems of the president’s work style are revealed to be real all at once. If a chief officer orders everything, subordinates do not work without an order. (The president) should delegate authority to ministers who are like field commanders, and once there is an accident, she only needs to provide broad guidelines to clarify responsibilities. Flexibility is important in the field. Because (the ministers) are not trained this way, they ran about in confusion while handling the (Sewol) accident.” (CEO of an SME)

“A nation is a gigantic organism. Accidents can occur anytime. Thus, it is risky for the head of a state to say extreme words like “never.” What is urgent is to simplify the issue and propose solutions. There are three major issues in the (Sewol) accident in the end. How to console the bereaved families, how to comfort the people, and how to cope with the accident.” (Former financial minister)

There were many concerns about not just the accident itself but also how to deal with the accident. “Please explain (the accident) to the public in presence with the top local experts. There should be a prudent assessment about how to salvage the ferry from the sea by now. Is it impossible with all the top technologies of the world? If now, when and how will the ship be salvaged? Please talk (to the public) about a frank and practical solution.” (Former military general)

Criticisms against the launch of a new ministry on safety affairs were also high. “Bureaucrats always argue the need of a new organization whenever an accident occurs. That is why the government gets bigger, work boundaries conflict and interventions increase. Streamlining work overlaps and clarifying responsibilities should be a priority.” (Head of an economic research institute)

“A nation can be reformed only when public officials feel desperate. If (we) do not overcome this crisis, this administration can get nothing done during the remaining term. This may not be even comparable to the mad cow diseases scandal during the previous administration. The people are in great despair and resentment. I am concerned where such emotion will be directed to.” (Former vice minister)

The president seems lonely now. Rather than trying to handle this crisis by herself, I hope she listens to the voices of senior leaders of our society as well as the people in order to overcome the crisis.