Who serves the people?
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Have we ever experienced so many preposterous events one after another? In the past, unimaginable events came in physical disasters such as the tragic collapses of the Seongsu Bridge during morning rush hour in 1994 and the Sampoong Department Store in 1995. Those deadly disasters have not been repeated, but we nevertheless have been exposed to a string of grave incidents unsettling and jeopardizing public lives and properties.
The Covid-19 outbreak on a Navy destroyer on a peacekeeping mission in eastern Africa has been the most outrageous. It is deplorable that the government had not thought of vaccinating combat servicemen on duty far away. The sailors only received a couple of ibuprofen pills when their fever went up to 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit). Up to 90 percent of the 301 crew of the Cheonghae unit aboard the destroyer were infected. We hate to imagine what would have happened if they had to fight a battle. The presidential spokesman crowed that President Moon Jae-in came up with the idea of dispatching two transport jets to bring the soldiers back home. He was more or less admitting how incompetent and useless the staff of Moon were.
Last year, we had to witness the appalling scene of inmates of the Dongbu Detention Center crying out for help after a Covid-19 outbreak. Although the inmates were serving time for breaking laws, they are still citizens of this nation. The danger of infection rises in confined spaces. But nobody cared. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae was engrossed in ousting Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl. If any relatives of people in power had been at the detention center or on the destroyer, such neglect would not have happened. There also would not have been blaming others or congratulating themselves with coming up ideas.
Authorities of this administration must answer for these debacles. They are different types of failures from such failed economic policies as steep increases in the minimum wage and the 52-hour workweek. Policies influencing livelihoods and the economy can differ depending on one’s ideological perspective. But there must not be any difference on the policies and means to protect public lives and properties. Public safety must come first no matter what.
The government has not given any confidence on the safety front. It has been touting how excellent its public health response has been over the last 18 months. But the majority of the population still cannot be sure when they will be vaccinated. The number of public sector employees surged under this government, but services for the people deteriorated. A middle-aged woman was bitten by an unleashed dog while on a stroll in a village and died. People are forced to go on solitary walks or climbs under the Covid-19 environment. But they have to fear unleashed dogs. There should be some protection against the growing pet population. But the National Assembly and government have little thought of getting to it.
A young man after repeated failures in finding a job was found dead in his shabby living place. Family suicides from hard times are increasing, but again we hear of no actions from the government or politicians. Since the five-year single-term presidency was established from 1987, every governing front has been more engrossed in defending its power than the people. The bureaucratic community also became submissive to keep their jobs or get promoted.
The fiscal coffers are being used to serve political purpose, wrecking the public finances with debt growing by 100 trillion won ($86.6 billion) each year. Still, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) wants to hand out more in relief grants. While neglecting to care for public health and properties, it is certainly very willing to spend tax money. The real estate market is in havoc because of wave after wave of regulations. The government trotted out 25 sets of regulations and raised the appraised values of properties four years in a row. But prices have skyrocketed, burdening people with taxes. People not fortunate enough to own properties are pained by a jump in rents.
South Gyeongsang Governor Kim Kyoung-soo was pronounced guilty by the Supreme Court for orchestrating an online opinion rigging scheme in favor of President Moon Jae-in ahead of the 2017 presidential election. That too is a gruesome reminder of the risks from the government. The politics of division have put everyone in danger — soldiers, inmates, and even ordinary people out on a walk. So who is protecting the people? Authorities should look in the mirror and reflect on that question.