Mayor in the hot seat

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Mayor in the hot seat

The Seoul Metropolitan government has decided to implement measures to prevent tragic accidents like what happened two weeka ago at the Guui Station on the Line 2 Metro subway. The city announced it will eliminate a special clause for retirees of Seoul Metro, which mandates rehiring of former Metro employees at its contractors.

In a press briefing yesterday, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon apologized for the death of a 19-year-old repairman from a contractor, who was killed by a dashing train while trying to fix a malfunctioning screen door at the station. The mayor said he was deeply sorry for the death of a young man who struggled to live with a paltry 1.4-million-won ($1,208) monthly paycheck with his cherished dream of becoming a locomotive engineer in the future.

Seoul city plans to set up a joint civilian and government committee to find out the real cause and lead-up to the mishap. After the committee announces the results of its investigations in July, the city will present concrete ways to abolish the ill-conceived rehiring programs and come up with reasonable alternatives.

The heart-rending accident basically stems from Seoul Metro’s tendency to commission dangerous jobs to contractors as well as a chain of corruption among contractors and their subcontractors. Seoul Metro assigns tough jobs like repairing screen doors on the subway to contractors, which are mostly headed by Metro retirees. Payment systems for workers at contractors are also unfair between those retirees and new comers. The sorrowful death of the young repairman, too, originates with such a biased — and exploitative — payment structure. The fact-finding committee and police must get to the bottom of the corrupt relationship between Metro and a number of its contractors.

But the problem is that Mayor Park failed to keep close watch on the recurring accidents on the subway nor aggressively devised follow-up measures. Since Park came into office, Seoul Metro has become a synonym for “parachute appointments” for major posts like CEO, auditor and outside director. Park used to fill those positions with labor union leaders and politicians with no expertise in running the subway system. The mayor’s explication that he was not aware of that does not make sense.

Mayor Park has been engaging in political activities highly suggestive of a presidential bid since the April 13 general election. But if he fails to successfully administer the city, he will face a dark political future. Citizens will closely watch to see if he really can cut the corruption chain.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jun. 8, Page 30
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