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[Reporter's Column] Disaster weighs on national economy

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Published : 2014-04-22 21:20
Updated : 2014-04-22 21:20

As the death toll from the sunken ferry Sewol continues to mount, many government offices and public organizations have either canceled or scaled down scheduled events this week to show respect to the victims.

But questions are now cautiously surfacing about how the government expects to bring the nation back to normal when it is preoccupied with avoiding public criticism.

In the wake of the overturned vessel disaster that has left more than a hundred people dead, state organs that have anything to do with the Ministry of Security and Public Administration or the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries have put all work on hold, except the rescue operations and support for the victims and their families.

Much of the country has ground to a halt, including on the administrative side, as public agencies and their officials are also keeping their heads down in the aftermath of one of the country’s worst maritime disasters.

Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok canceled a meeting with economy-related ministries slated for Wednesday to discuss support plans for the victims and families of ferry disaster.

Bank of Korea Gov. Lee Ju-yeol also canceled Wednesday’s economic review meeting where he was to exchange a wide range of views concerning recent economic developments with heads of financial institutions and scholars.

The Finance Ministry and the BOK said the cancellations of those meetings reflected the social atmosphere of collective mourning since the disaster.

Many companies, from automakers to banks, have also canceled social business events slated for this week.

“The mood is not so good at the moment, and we’re very careful of being a target of blame,” a spokesman for a local bank said.

Provincial governments have indefinitely suspended planned festivals and music concerts. The entertainment and broadcasting industry has also joined in on paying their respects to the victims of the ferry disaster. K-pop stars, including BoA, canceled promotional activities last week in the wake of the ferry sinking.

A major hotel in central Seoul said at least seven business conferences were canceled this week and it received a large number of room cancellations.

Critics remained cautious of making predictions about the disastrous accident’s impact on the country.

Others were worried about the impact these developments are having on the domestic economy.

“Many companies are putting their business on hold. It is not a good sign. The slowdown in business operations may result in a temporary economic slowdown,” a market analyst said.

Domestic consumption has also been hit, with credit card usage falling as much as 8 percent in the five days following the sinking of the Sewol.

The moment will soon come when the country will be forced to decide when and how to get things back to normal, and it will be another responsibility the government will be tasked with.

By Oh Kyu-wook (596story@heraldcorp.com)

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