President Park Geun-hye on Friday apologized to the families of the ferry disaster victims for the “insufficient” government response to the tragedy and vowed to conduct a complete revamp of the country’s social safety system.
“I believe that in order not to let the sacrifices of the victims be in vain, the government should shore up the foundation of the social safety system, and carry out reform to the extent that it can be seen as a complete overhaul of the entire national system,” she said.
“As we have solicited opinions from experts from various sectors of our society, we have been trying to craft measures to reform the safety system, public officialdom and other areas. But I believe that your thoughts are the most important.”
President Park Geun-hye meets with families of the Sewol victims at Cheong Wa Dae on Friday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Park met with 17 representatives of the bereaved families at Cheong Wa Dae after she suggested the meeting to consult with them over how to reform the safety management framework in the wake of the disaster that left more than 300 people dead or missing.
Park apologized for the flawed handling of the disaster for the third time as well.
The families urged the president to do her utmost to make the sacrifices of their sons and daughters valuable for the advancement of society and to prevent the recurrence of such a man-made disaster.
“Our despair has turned into outrage due to the poor handling of the disaster,” said one of the family representatives. “It is the responsibility of the president and government to make the (sacrifices) of the victims including our children valuable and noble, and remain in our history.”
Before the families met Park, they released a press release calling on Park and her government to speed up the search operations and enact a special law that mandates a thorough and transparent investigation into the ferry sinking.
Last Friday, some 100 bereaved relatives marched to the front of the presidential compound of Cheong Wa Dae, calling for a face-to-face meeting with President Park. But only Park’s senior secretaries for public relations and political affairs came out to meet them.
Amid public outrage over the disaster, Park has been preparing a national address.
In the address, which is likely to be issued next week, she is expected to apologize again for the clumsy response to the disaster and unveil her plans to reform the government’s safety system and public officialdom criticized for corruption, unprofessionalism and lax safety management.
Her reform measures have received keen political attention, as local elections are less than three weeks away. The ruling camp has been struggling to shore up voter support, as public anger could impact voter sentiment against it.
Earlier in the day, the families of the victims called for a civilian-led probe to get to the bottom of the ferry disaster in a display of their distrust of the state investigation. They stressed that the probe should be led by an independent civilian group, not by the government or the National Assembly.
“To overcome our sorrow, resentment, agony and distrust, there should be an earnest soul-searching on the part of those who are responsible for the disaster and there should be a clear verification of the truths behind the disaster,” the families and the Korea Bar Association said in a joint statement.
“It is the president’s will that would enable us to verify the truth. We call upon her to accept our demand and put herself at the vanguard of the efforts to rebuild national, social trust.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)