The Korea Herald


[Wang Son-taek] How to fix the jamboree fiasco?

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 10, 2023 - 05:30

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South Korea has been upgraded from the poorest to one of the wealthiest countries by making remarkable progress over the past 60 years. The people of Korea are proud of these achievements. However, the pride has been brutally shattered in the wake of the 25th World Scout Jamboree. This is because the big event is attracting international attention and has been ruined due to a lack of preparation.

Participants of the jamboree, which was held in Saemangeum, a large portion of reclaimed land in Buan, North Jeolla Province, decided to withdraw early on the seventh day of the event's twelve-day schedule. The reason for the big change in plans was mainly the approaching typhoon, but the possibility of an early suspension was also raised following various problems that arose from the first day of the event. It is a national disgrace that Korea hasn’t experienced in recent decades. In addition to the tradition of welcoming foreign guests, Koreans' pride in carrying out any mission neatly has also been seriously undermined.

While the event has already become a mess, the immediate task to deal with at hand is minimizing the participants’ losses and further tarnishing of Korea’s national image. To deal with the situation, the priority is to identify the problems. The first problem is the lack of preparation. Thousands of teenagers suffered from the heat wave and complained of discomfort with the unsanitary conditions at facilities such as toilets and showers. Inedible food was provided, and insects such as mosquitoes attacked the participants. Critics said members who were looking forward to visiting Korea, the hottest country in the world right now thanks to K-pop, have been unwillingly made to participate in a survival mission program.

Regrettably, this incident was preventable. A pre-jamboree event was cancelled in August exactly one year ago. Though the reason for the cancellation was COVID-19, it was reported that the other problems including the rainy season were the part of the reason. Since the same problems were exposed a year ago, the organizers could have prevented this mess. During a parliamentary audit in October last year, there were a series of warnings from an opposition lawmaker who criticized a severe lack of preparation. In response, the Minister of Gender Equality and Family in charge of the event replied that there would be no problem.

Secondly, crisis management is not proceeding reasonably. If a global pivot state holds an international event, it must set up a plan B in case of disruptions. When problems were exposed on the fourth day since the jamboree began, President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered an unlimited supply of air-conditioned buses and refrigerator trucks. On the fifth day, he called for the urgent addition of a tour program to the original scheduled activities. On Monday, he ordered an early withdrawal due to the typhoon, explaining that a plan B would be put in place. To be more precise, this is more like a doctor who shows up after the patient has already died, not plan B. The Korean government's response is an impromptu measure, a common phenomenon in authoritarian countries. An advanced country would ask a group of veterans and experts to give recommendations and support the decisions.

The third point is the Korean government’s attitude. The lack of preparation for the event is evident, but the government's apology is insufficient. Due to the disruption, teenagers and their families who participated in the event experienced loss of time, money and a once-in-a-life-time dream. According to the BBC, British participants spent 3,500 pounds ($4,400) on the event. The British Scout Federation said it would have to pay an additional 1 million pounds to arrange unexpected accommodations. They need an apology from the parties responsible, compensation for the damage and a plan to deal with the situation.

As the event is hosted by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and held in North Jeolla Province, the apologists should be the minister and the governor. President Yoon should apologize as well because the jamboree is a national event, and he has an overall responsibility for national affairs. In particular, Yoon was appointed as the honorary president of the Korean Scouts in March, and had promised full support for the success of the jamboree at the time.

Fourth, in the wake of the jamboree fiasco, the Korean political community is engaged in a political fight that shifts responsibilities each other. Since the event was decided at the domestic level in 2015, the Park Geun-hye government is partly responsible. The Moon Jae-in government may also be accountable, since the final decision was made at the international level in 2017. However, it is illogical for the current government to blame previous governments, considering this government came into power over a year ago, and many warnings were issued from that time. As this shameful situation continues, the appearance of political strife is simply ugly. It should be stopped immediately.

Lastly, although a massive failure has occurred and the country's reputation is plummeting, follow-up measures must be carried out thoroughly. We need to find out who, what and how it became such a mess. The follow-up measures should include explanations of the circumstances, compensation for damages, punishment of those responsible, and efforts to prevent recurrence. As soon as the event is concluded, the government should start investigating the facts and report the results of it to the concerned global residents and those affected by the event's failure. Financial compensation should also be provided to Scout federations of countries that have suffered direct damage. The people responsible for the disaster should be punished. This is a way to reduce the loss of the participants and the fall of Korea's image even a little.

Wang Son-taek

Wang Son-taek is a director for the Global Policy Center at Hanpyeong Peace Institute. He was a former diplomatic correspondent at YTN and former research associate at Yeosijae. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.