A bloated budget
The budget proposal by a committee probing last year’s Sewol ferry sinking and deciding on damages for its victims came under criticism for some questionable figures. The committee, formed in accordance with a special law passed to probe the tragedy, demanded a budget of 16 billion won ($13.7 million) from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance including funding for a staff sports day, social activities and even staff birthdays. Some staff were allocated holiday bonuses of between 1.39 million won and 2.21 million won. They were guaranteed compensation of up to 1.94 million won at the end of the year if they did not use their holiday days. There were many reserves earmarked for business trips and overtime.
The committee argued that it drew up the budget according to a template provided by officials dispatched from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and said it was merely following government guidelines for spending plans. But why an independent and nongovernmental organization, set up to get to the bottom of how Korea’s worst-ever maritime accident came about, deserves the same privileges as an ordinary government office is incomprehensible. The committee will take 18 months just for the fact-finding investigation. It should come under a different set of compensation guidelines.
Since it will be financed by taxpayer money for a specific task, the committee should try to save unnecessary expenses and devote itself to its primary function. Inappropriate spending should be crossed out during a budget review with the finance ministry. The committee, born from a sense of public guilt over the losses of so many young students in the ferry disaster, should keep true to its purpose. It does not need to rent out an office in a building in downtown Seoul and buy new furniture to do its investigative work.
The committee is also in charge of coming up with a new system to prioritize public safety in Korea and decide on compensation for the victims’ families. The government will have to approve the budget as soon as possible to start the organization’s official duties. The committee members should always keep in mind that the main point of their work is to make sure the innocents on the Sewol didn’t die in vain.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 28, Page 30