A nation for bureaucrats?

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A nation for bureaucrats?

Since the disastrous and shameful Sewol calamity, the nation has been doing some major soul searching. Our country cannot go on without reinventing itself. The first to change is our bureaucratic system. Public services should exist to serve the people through administrative assistance. But in this nation, public office seems to exist to serve the private interests of bureaucrats. Unthinkable things happen as the result. They could be deadly, too, as the Sewol sinking proved.

The Sewol ferry sank through a chain of criminal failures and irregularities. If ferry operation, management, safety examination, supervision and salvage took place normally, we may have seen entirely different consequences today. The shady connection between the maritime ministry, umbrella institutions and shipping companies caused the maritime tragedy.

The aged and overworked Sewol ferry passed safety checks only two months before it made its doomed trip. But the sinking strongly suggested flaws in the 6,825-ton Sewol ferry, which was originally manufactured in Japan and operated since 1994. The Sewol ferry also passed the cargo overload examination before it departed. This was possible because eight presidents out of 11 that headed the Korea Register of Shipping in charge of the regular ship checkups came from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. Ten of 12 heads of the Korea Shipping Association, which is responsible for cargo examination, were from the ministry. Thanks to revolving-door tradition, officials from the ministry head 11 out of 14 umbrella associations and institutions.

The revolving-door practices and custom are deeply seated and spread out to all government agencies. Post-retirement jobs at the industrial sector are secure for officials from the finance, commerce and trade, education, and land and transportation ministries. Behind the nuclear reactor corruption and reckless and profligate management of the public railway system were shady connections and revolving-door practices. Unless these bureaucratic hierarchy and connections change, major calamities like the Sewol sinking are bound to recur.

President Park Geun-hye promised to do away with bureaucratic syndicate and connections. Prosecutors are readying a large-scale investigation into corruption in the shipping industry. But what should be accompanied are reforms in the domineering and over-stretched bureaucratic system. The entire population will be watching how resolved the government is in its own self-reform.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 24, Page 26

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