[EDITORIALS]Punish Officials Over Fishing Pact

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[EDITORIALS]Punish Officials Over Fishing Pact

The public is criticizing the incompetency and failures of the government's diplomacy after confirmation of Japanese media reports that Russia and Japan have agreed to prohibit third countries from fishing in the waters around the Southern Kuril Islands. Due to our incapable government, Korea will lose one-third of its saury supplies starting from next year. The people, including fishermen affected by the agreement, are exploding in rage.

Furthermore the Ministry of Maritime Affairs & Fisheries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade already knew in early August that the agreement was about to be made between Japan and Russia behind the scenes. They brought the problem on themselves and did nothing to prevent it. We have to see this as a warning that there are serious problems in the operation of the government, which extends beyond the economic loss. If they had done their best in vain, this would be understandable. However, officials involved in this matter should take the responsibility if they had known of the progress of the Japan-Russia pact in advance and did nothing to prevent or stop it.

This failure results from chronic problems within our government, such as the malfunctioning of interministerial cooperation, the lack of specialists in maritime diplomacy and the lack of responsibility for the duties as public servants. The government should have prepared for the current situation when Russia changed the way the fishing quota was distributed from allowing individual companies to catch a certain amount of fish to assigning the quota to nations. If there were specialists in their respective places at the ministries involved who could see the core of the matter clearly and coolly we would have had measures in place to prevent the agreement between Moscow and Tokyo.

Or, if those who are doing their best to the last measure, regardless of the frequent reshuffling of top policymakers including the cabinet minister, were in the right place, we could have prevented the agreement. We ended up with the current problem partly because there are too many officials doing nothing and lying low, completely inactive, only looking up to see who will guarantee their iron rice bowls.

It is pathetic to see the Foreign Ministry and the Maritime Ministry blaming each other by saying they do not have the authority to negotiate with other countries or that they do not have specialists on maritime issues. If they had seen the seriousness of the problem early and cooperated in earnest, we would have nothing to worry about. Because of the lack of organic cooperation between them, they made mistakes again and again, like omitting the clause on the double-boat dragnet fishing, when they discussed the fishery agreement with Japan in 1998.

We should deliver a strong protest to the Russian government, which discarded the trust of Korea for its economic interest. We need to ask Japan to see the matter in a broader perspective. In that sense, we will have to make the most of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to Seoul next Monday.

Discerning who is responsible for this fiasco is as important as pushing for damage control. We should call into account officials at the center of this failure as we did when the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States downgraded Korea's air safety to category 2. Punishing officials responsible for the agreement will sound the alarm for government officials who are lax in work ethics to discipline themselves.
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