Lax security pervasive at government offices

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Lax security pervasive at government offices

The 26-year-old man who broke into the Central Government Complex five times in the past two months was not the only person to have attempted - and been successful at - evading security at government office buildings.

At around 3:40 p.m. on Thursday, a man in his 40s sprayed 1 liter (33 ounces) of paint thinner across the floor of a conference room in Naju City Hall in South Jeolla and tried to set it on fire. It took a total of nine people including public officials and civilians to stop him.

The man had allegedly been harboring ill feelings toward the city government for seemingly ignoring his repeated civil complaints regarding a new cemetery in his neighborhood that allegedly blocks the drainage pipes connected to his house.

How he got the paint thinner all the way into the conference hall of the city hall is not a mystery.

“There are always people coming and going in Naju City Hall,” a city hall official said. “Many come here to file civil complaints, making it difficult for the security guards to check everyone’s identity or belongings.”

At Jincheon County Office in North Chungcheong last April, a man in his 40s caused a commotion when he entered the county governor’s office drenched in gasoline and threatened to set himself on fire. The man was protesting the county’s decision in not approving his bid for a spot at a local traditional market.

Officials at the county office testified they simply thought he was coming in to file a civil complaint. But the fact that a man armed with gasoline walked all the way into the personal office of the county governor without any restrictions raised questions on the state of security at the government complex.

But from the perspective of county governors and other government officials, a system whereby people can freely come and go to file civil complaints is one of the prerequisites for good governance.

Heads of local government entities have been elected directly by residents since 1995, as a public policy to encourage local governments to heed civil complaints. Many local government complexes thus lowered their security measures to make the heads of local government entities more accessible and available to the public.

But even if some local government complexes see the need to heighten security measures, they complain of a general lack of budget.

“Installing security systems for exit and entry such as speed gates would cost tens of millions of won,” a local government official said. “The only solution is to create a united security manual for all government complexes and to receive financial assistance from the central government.”

Some metropolitan government complexes have recently heightened their security measures by installing so-called speed gates and other security checkpoints. Busan City Hall installed speed gates in 2013. A visitor wishing to file a civil complaint needs to register for a visitor pass and scan the pass to enter.

Gwangju City Hall also installed speed gates and security checkpoints on its first floor and basement-level entrances. In order for officials to get to their offices, they need to scan their fingerprints. There are separate entry and exit doors for visitors filing civil complaints.

Meanwhile, even in midst of nationwide security alert at government complexes, security at Sejong Government Complex still appeared rather lax on Thursday: After an alarm went off at a speed gate, no security guard stepped forward to check the visitor’s belongings. It takes a visitor there less than 2 minutes to reach the offices within the complex from the speed gates.

BY SHIN JIN-HO, CHOI KYEONG-HO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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