Safety bill approval is just the startThe ruling and opposition parties have agreed to address a long-overdue bill to reorganize the government’s structure. The bill was proposed amid criticism over the botched state handling of the April 16 Sewol ferry sinking to enhance safety supervision and response, as well as sever collusion between business and officialdom. Under the proposal, a new administrative office will be set up to root out dubious practices and business connections in bureaucracy and create a deputy prime ministerial rank to oversee education, as well as social and cultural policies. A new Public Safety Administration will be established as a control tower to coordinate, command and enforce safety policies and actions.
The incompetence and sloppiness that the national Coast Guard and the Ministry of Security and Public Administration demonstrated in response to the country’s worst-ever maritime calamity was shameful. Although few argued about the need for a stronger and more effective control tower on disaster response, political parties and government offices differed on the role of a new administration. When President Park Geun-hye announced the creation of a new public safety office in May, reorganization of the Coast Guard and National Emergency Management Agency was inevitable. If they remained as separate units, the establishment of a new government office would be meaningless.
A central administrative office could be more effective in drawing up and carrying out disaster control and response policies. It could be more attentive in reinforcing rescue manpower and equipment. But it must have authoritative command over executing organizations. If members of the two organizations feel insecure about their jobs, they will lack focus and commitment. The new public safety agency must first try to minimize any potential side effects of the merger. The political parties agreed to give the Coast Guard, fire and emergency headquarters independence in appointments and budgeting. The Coast Guard division also would have the authority to investigate maritime accidents and incidents. They also decided to change the status of firefighters who currently fall under regional government jurisdiction as state employees. The pride of millions of firefighters and Coast Guard officers has been hurt. The government must assure that they will be working under improved conditions so that they can respond better in emergencies. A new public safety department is only a start. The government must prove it is not just adding it unnecessarily by coming up with a radically improved public safety system. JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 3, Page 30