President Park Geun-hye revealed her sense of urgency over the deteriorating public sentiment by discussing a range of measures regarding the April 16 ferry tragedy with her senior secretaries and Cabinet members on Sunday and Tuesday, respectively. The meeting with the whole senior presidential staff was the first she had convened on a weekend since she took office in February last year.
Park is said to be planning an address to the nation as early as this week to apologize for the poor handling of the maritime accident and to put forward a blueprint for enhancing the country’s safety system and overhauling the officialdom, which is steeped in inertia and failure of duties. She has seen her approval ratings, which hovered above 60 percent before the ferry disaster, fall to the 40 percent range. The mounting public anger at the government’s botched response has also cast a shadow over the prospect of her ruling Saenuri Party winning the June 4 local elections.
What Park should keep in mind is that her planned address may have an adverse effect if it fails to convince the public of her sincerity and firm commitment to carry through measures needed to prevent a similar tragedy from recurring.
She is right to point out that an overhaul of the bureaucratic system is essential to building a safer and more secure society. Concrete measures should be worked out to inject more private sector talent into the civil service and sever the collusive ties between bureaucrats and business.
In this regard, it is a reasonable argument that the Ministry of Security and Public Administration should be excluded from the work to draw up the plan for reforming the officialdom. It would be nonsensical for the ministry, which has been under fire for the incompetence it showed in the response to the ferry disaster, to be allowed to take the initiative in overhauling the bureaucracy.
This task should be undertaken by an independent body manned by private sector experts with a full mandate. It will require sweeping innovative ideas that go beyond bureaucratic mindset for the government to regain public trust.
As some commentators note, the Park administration has been less enthusiastic about or capable of accepting outside demand for change than previous governments. It should now abandon this passive stance, which is out of sync with the public sentiment.
A new government agency envisioned by Park to take charge of safety and emergencies should be an exemplary case for reform. It needs to recruit private sector experts to higher positions and reward its employees for their devotion to work not for the time served.