Park to reveal new safety plan

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Park to reveal new safety plan

President Park Geun-hye is set to deliver an address, this week at the earliest, to apologize for the Sewol ferry disaster.

She will also unveil her master plan for national safety and countermeasures against rampant bureaucracy, according to the Blue House yesterday.

Park’s proposal came at an unexpected emergency meeting of senior secretaries at the Blue House that was organized to discuss a follow-up plan in the aftermath of the tragic Sewol ferry disaster, a Blue House spokesman said.

This week marks a month since the ferry capsized in waters off Jindo on the southwestern coast, leaving nearly 300 dead and 29 still missing as of yesterday. The president has since deliberated on measures to regain the confidence of the people.

Approval ratings for the president, which hovered above 60 percent before the accident, have now fallen to the 40 percent range - a reflection of Koreans’ disappointment with President Park and the government’s handling of the accident.

Both political analysts and the media have maintained that Park should come up with a blueprint for a wide-scale overhaul of bureaucracy and the national safety system.

It is highly likely that the address to the nation will be broadcast live, according to sources. The president hinted at the plan for the first time on May 2 during a meeting with religious leaders, where she apologized to the victims of the tragedy. That was her fourth public apology.

Since the accident, Park has emphasized rooting out the “bureaucratic mafia,” or “gwanfia,” a term coined by the public after they became appalled at the rampant malpractices and corruption stemming from decades-old dubious connections between the shipping industry and public offices ahead of the Sewol disaster. The word is a portmanteau of the Korean word for officials, “gwalyo,” and mafia.

Min Kyung-wook, the presidential spokesman, said yesterday that the president organized the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, at 11 a.m. It was the first time for the president to meet with an entire group of her secretaries on a Sunday.

“The senior secretary meeting was convened taking into consideration the wide range of opinions gathered, including those of experts, on the various problems raised following the Sewol accident,” Min told reporters.

“An institutional means to root out gwanfia is through a revision of the Public Service Ethics Act, which will become an important factor in reforming corruption in public officials,” a key government official said.

In the wake of the April 16 sinking of the ferry, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and other government officials’ ineptitude and lack of ethics were criticized after it was revealed that retired officials had moved to related industries and associations because of close links between government and business in recent years.

Article 17 of the current Public Service Ethics Act prohibits retired public servants from working in profit-making enterprises that are related to a ministry or agency they worked at in the past five years, for the next two years from the point of retirement.

However, this does not apply to officials hired by associations or unions that are affiliated with national or regional government or branch offices.

Other government officials also said that Park may push for an anti-corruption bill, or the so-called Kim Young-ran act, which will toughen penalties against corrupt public servants, like increasing jail time or fines for civil servants caught accepting bribes.


BY SARAH KIM, SEO JI-EUN [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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