In her nationally televised address Monday, President Park Geun-hye expressed her firm resolve to turn the sorrow from last month’s ferry disaster into a decisive force to build a safer nation with more capable and responsive public services.
She also offered yet another apology and held herself “ultimately responsible” for the maritime tragedy, in which more than 300 passengers, most of them teenagers, lost their lives. While Park delivered her speech 33 days after the Sewol sank off the southwest coast, rescue divers were still struggling to recover the bodies of the 18 remaining missing victims.
It might have been impossible for her address, however carefully worded, to soothe the deep agony and anger of not only the bereaved families but also the Korean public as a whole. Park is now tasked with ensuring that a similar tragedy will not happen again by redressing problems that led to the sinking of the ferry and the botched initial response.
In her address, Park suggested a set of measures to upgrade the nation’s safety system and overhaul the bureaucracy that has been steeped in inertia, neglect of duties and collusive ties with business. The president revealed her wrath at the poor rescue work by maritime police, deciding to dismantle the organization. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration also took the brunt of her determination to revamp the officialdom. It was forced to accept the transfer of its main functions to the envisioned agencies to take charge of safety and administrative reform. She reiterated her promise to inject more private sector talent into the civil service. The president also pledged to cut collusive links between bureaucrats and business, calling for an early enactment of a sweeping anticorruption bill.
Her address marked only the beginning of the work required to build a safer and more secure society, which should never again see hundreds of people losing their lives due to ignorance of rules and a lack of devotion to public duty.
Park should carry out her pledges persistently and resolutely throughout the remainder of her term in office. She needs to regain public trust in her administration by appointing competent and respectful figures with their own voices to ministerial posts in the Cabinet reshuffle expected to be made as early as this week.
During her meeting with a group of family members of the victims last week, the president said she would do her utmost to make the disaster a watershed moment in the way the nation was run.
Achieving this task will certainly go beyond the span of her five-year tenure, which ends in February 2018, and require wholehearted efforts by all people in every corner of society. The painful memory of the deadly ferry sinking must not be consigned to oblivion. The loss of valuable lives should be a constant reminder to us to strive to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy. All Koreans, wherever they are, also need to renew their determination to carry out their professional duties faithfully, which is the first step toward building a safe society.