Safety must not lapse furtherTwo months have passed since the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry. The country’s worst-ever maritime calamity, which caused the deaths of nearly 300 people - mostly young students - served as a rude awakening for poor corporate and civilian safety awareness, as well as the bureaucratic incompetence and collusion that led to negligence in safety supervision.
Sweeping changes have been pledged to place public safety and well-being ahead of economic and industrial growth. The humbled government has reiterated promises to fortify safety infrastructure. President Park Geun-hye formally apologized to the public on May 19 and declared dramatic reforms in governance, and the administration followed up with 27 action plans.
Safety has been the buzzword for the last two months, but we must ask ourselves if we are on a completely new path. The answer is a dismal “no.” Some worry that the lessons have already been forgotten. The cornerstone of government reforms are for the Government Organization Law and Government Employees Ethics Law need to be reworked.
But the legislature is too engrossed in the July 30 by-elections to bother reviewing the bills. Both the ruling and main opposition parties appear to have missed a clear message from voters in the June 4 elections. Action to retool the country’s safety infrastructure must start immediately. At the same time, long-term and strenuous work to deeply root a safety-first awareness into people’s lives and government policies must be activated.
But we cannot expect the monumental agenda to move forward if a sense of urgency and resolution is absent from the beginning. This is no time for the government to drag its feet.
The government is so absorbed in reorganizing its administrative structure and reshuffling senior offices that it has been neglectful of the more urgent work of re-examining public safety standards. Many safety policies in public places remain questionable. The government should immediately concentrate its budget and administrative resources to improve the safety of national facilities.
The government has also neglected one major area. It has promised to upgrade our safety infrastructure without specifying the means to come up with the cost for the enormous job. It must try to seek public understanding and support to help finance the cost to refurbish safety infrastructure through hikes in utility and public transportation fees. We must try to establish a safe social infrastructure without burdening the low-income class.
The public must cooperate and endure a little inconvenience for the sake of mass safety. A safe country can be built with united efforts from the government and public.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 16, Page 34
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