No rescue vacuum allowed

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No rescue vacuum allowed

President Park Geun-hye’s bombshell announcement to disband the 61-year-old national Coast Guard and disempower the Ministry of Security and Public Administration and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries has rocked the government. In a televised address to apologize for the government’s poor handling of the Sewol ferry crisis, President Park said the Coast Guard will be dismantled and its functions of investigating and gathering intelligence will be transferred to the national police. In addition, its rescue operations and maritime security will be shifted to a new agency in charge of national safety affairs. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries will also lose their security and maritime jurisdictions to the new agency.

The three organizations can hardly complain, given their scandalously botched work from supervision to the rescue and relief mission. The strengthening of regulations to restrict retired government employees from moving to private-sector jobs also dealt a blow. The disarray will likely weigh on bureaucratic society for some time. The government plans to draw up revised bills to restructure the government and reform bureaucracy by early June and submit them to the National Assembly.

But just because a monstrous wave is on the horizon, bureaucrats should not forget their place. They must not mix up reorganization of their workplaces and their roles as public servants. They will only disappoint people further if they neglect their work or resist restructuring. The Coast Guard and the two ministries must go on with their unfinished work - the ongoing rescue mission and compensation for victims’ families - with haste. Families have worried that the decision to dismantle the Coast Guard could demoralize rescuers and disturb the search for bodies. This presents the government with a major test. Early summer, when the government reorganization and reform bill will go under legislative review, usually brings floods, storms and other natural disasters. The presidential office and supervisory agencies must keep a close watch to maintain discipline during the transitional period.

The bureaucratic community is traditionally resilient and resistant to reform. But government employees must be fully aware of the criticisms following the ferry crisis. Self-led reinvention cannot restore public confidence. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration, which is a target for reform, must be excluded from restructuring. The new measures must include inventive ways to draw in new talent into the public field.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 21, Page 30

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