After tragedy, Park might reshuffle

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After tragedy, Park might reshuffle

President Park Geun-hye’s ringing threat on Monday that she would sack civil servants who neglected their duties in coping with the Sewol ferry disaster has raised speculation that the administration may launch a major second-year reshuffle soon.

Given the government’s far-from-professional dealings with the disaster - from confusion in the numbers of rescued people to obvious miscommunication between government organizations - the president’s resolve to postpone any reshuffle until after the June 4 local elections is likely to be abandoned.

“If civil servants are distrusted by the people and are criticized for failing to responsibly fulfil their administrative duties, there is no reason for them to be there,” she said in a meeting Monday morning with her senior secretaries to discuss the ferry capsized in the waters off Jindo, South Jeolla. “Civil servants exist for the nation and the people, and those who merely walk on eggshells trying to preserve their positions, leading the people to distrust even the devoted workers, will definitely be expelled under this administration.”

Korean presidents have traditionally used reshuffles as tools to freshen up the atmosphere whenever political scandals or crises emerged. Emotions are running so high after the tragedy that the public would welcome some government bigwigs taking the fall for the poor response.

Rhee In-je, a six-term lawmaker with the ruling Saenuri Party, said a full-scale housecleaning of the Park administration is needed to restore its reputation for ethics and morality.

“We are not without regulations and systems,” Rhee said. “After all, it’s a matter of people and management.”

An independent lawmaker who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter claimed the entire cabinet, including the Prime Minister, should tender their resignations to assume responsibility for “such a dismal disaster.”

“After that, the president should no longer appoint ministers due to political or regional considerations,” he said. “The right person should be assigned to the right position. If not, it could make matters worse.”

A dilemma for Park is that the heads of the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the Ministry of Security and Public Administration - the two institutions most blamed for the poor response to the disaster so far - have only been in their posts for less than two months. That makes it tricky to hold them accountable.

Oceans Minister Lee Ju-young was appointed on March 5 and Security Minister Kang Byung-kyu on April 10.

Representative Rhee said the nation’s bureaucracy should go through a full-scale change.

“Bureaucrats’ habituation to routine or malaise is not something new,” he said. “The president, I believe, should make a decision after the crisis is resolved.

A reshuffle would signal the administration’s belief that protecting the lives and security of the people is its highest priority.”

Talk of a reshuffle of the Park administration began earlier this year after the president issued a verbal yellow card to Hyun Oh-seok, deputy prime minister for the economy and finance minister. Hyun made unsympathetic remarks after personal account information of millions of people was leaked by three credit card companies.

Many commentators said Hyun should be sacked. But Park abided by her own pledge at a Jan. 6 New Year press conference that “there won’t be any reshuffling.” Park said there was too much work ahead in her second year in office. The revived reshuffle suggests that Hyun should be sacked along with some other ministers.

BY SEO JI-EUN, KWON HO [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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