Looking back at a train of events over the past months, we might regretfully have to brand this country as the republic of tragic failures. The sinking of the Sewol ferry with 476 passengers on board, mostly sophomore high school students from Ansan Danwon High School, which occurred en route from Incheon toward Jeju Island, was not the beginning and ending of the entire tragic episodes prevalent in this country.
The South Korean government put a continued stress on the safety of citizens but man-made disasters always occurred without interruption. To name a few of them, the collapse of an auditorium at a resort hotel in Geyongju, the collision of two subway trains in Seoul, the injuries of workers in a copper plant explosion near Seoul, the killing of elderly people at a hospital annex in southwestern Korea, the shooting rampage at a military outpost, and the crash of a helicopter carrying firefighters and rescue workers who participated in recovering the bodies still missing after the sinking of Sewol ferry, and so on.
The safety management system the government has spent its huge budget on until recently did not function properly in the real situation of emergency needs. At first time, President Park Geun Hye blamed the action of ferry Sewol’s rescued captain and other crew member as “incomprehensible, irresponsible, tantamount to murder.” All bereaved families and ordinary citizens did not lend any trust to her administration because she prioritized safety as a campaign pledge and at the time of her inauguration, renamed the concerned ministry to that of Safety and Administration. One month after the sinking of ferry Sewol, she had to offer a fresh apology for the messed-up rescue efforts, promising deep-cutting reforms to make South Korea a safer, more livable nation, including dismantling the Coast Guard and creating a new safety agency.
In this country, we are currently in hot debate, often political and ideological, about how to make South Korea a safer, more livable nation. One group, involving opposition parties and some left-leaning non-governmental organizations, tend to put on a high priority on the eradication of hypocrisy and corruption among government administrators and the upper echelon of business managers. The term “bureaucratic” or “government mafia” refers to the widely-known practice of retired high-ranking government officials from ministries and regulatory agencies finding posts in different industries. In these new roles, they are frequently alleged to help private sector companies forge links with regulatory agencies. Many ordinary citizens have blamed this practice for the widespread corruption in the country and lax management of safety regulations.
The other group, mostly from the government party and right-winglibertarian think-tank institutes, tend to put a stronger emphasis on the eradication of safety ignorance or arrogance prevailing among ordinary citizens as an effective way of making South Korea a safer, more livable nation. This group argues that average Koreans, regardless of their social positions, tend to ignore safety regulation easily or even arrogantly challenge it, citing a recent poll that nearly half of Korean citizens have wild experiences crossing the street during the red traffic signal. The government, mainly represented by the Defense Ministry as well as the National Intelligence Service, likes to equate this arrogance with arrogance against national security, mentioning that ordinary citizens were ignorant of genuine safety threats from North Korea or would act too calmly in the spirit of security arrogance during the bombardment on Yeonpyong Island in November, 2010 or a number of missile tests into the East Sea over the recent years of 2010-2014.
In the coming distressful months after the sinking of Sewol, the government, opposition party, and ordinary citizens must prompt more deep thoughts on what they could closely cooperate with one another to work out a third way between the extreme positions taken by them and to make this country a safer, more livable, and more sustainable one for the next generation. The parliament, the judiciary, and the administration have to put their efforts together to weed out all grand corruption at the expense of strict norms concerning personal safety and national security stipulation. Ordinary citizens also should not stay away from the tedious process of self-educating various undesirable impacts of failure, damage, accident, disaster, or any other event on their life and other personal fortunes. We will have to generate our best collaborative efforts in reinventing South Korea as a fresh, revitalizing nation without corruption and safety threats, since it is clear and distinct that the nation is not for President Park Geun-Hye and the opposition parties, but for ordinary Koreans and their descendants who will live on this peninsula.
By Prof. Kwang Hee Jun / Sociology
The Chungdae Post -
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