[Editorial] A disaster for which no one takes responsibility

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[Editorial] A disaster for which no one takes responsibility

The rivalling political parties have agreed to extend the National Assembly probe on the Itaewon crowd crush for another 10 days until Jan. 17. The special probe on the Oct. 29 tragedy that killed 158 people has been laggard since its launch in November. The first hearing on police leadership held last week merely replayed excuses from senior police officers. They were either unaware or informed too late of the disaster.

Their self-justification even appalled the People Power Party lawmakers. “The Yongsan fire department says it has done its best. The Yongsan police station claims to have done its best. The Seoul Metro argues it has done all it could. We are dumbfounded,” said Rep. Lee Man-hee, a PPP lawmaker. The opposition went further. “It was a total disaster. Intelligence, security, and [emergency call center] 112 had all failed,” said a Democratic Party legislator.

Under the barrage of reproaches from lawmakers of opposite sides, police chiefs were merely engrossed in self-defense. Lee Im-jae, former head of the Yongsan Police Station, claimed that he had asked the higher Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for police reinforcements. But that comment was denied by his superior Kim Kwang-ho. Regardless of who is telling the truth, one thing is for sure. If the police had staffed enough security officers for the Halloween festivity crowd, the deadly accident could have been prevented.

When asked if he been drinking on the night of the accident, Yoon Hee-keun, commissioner general of the National Policy Agency, retorted by asking if he had the duty to explain what he did over the weekend. The police chief sounded as if he had done no wrong in the lead-up to the calamity.

Such shameful behaviors from senior offers have shattered public expectations of learning what had gone wrong on the horrific night. The slow progress in the parliamentary probe owes much to the government that has been overly emphasizing legal liability in the case. The senior officials are resorting to a blame game as they believe their seats can be saved if they can shun legal liability.

The extended probe will only worsen the pains of the bereaved families and enrage the public if those responsible for the crisis stick with their irresponsible attitude. If the government believes it can assign an important job to officers and officials so long as they don’t commit criminal acts, that’s not a government. The government does not need incompetent and unqualified people. We hope that any senior officials summoned for the hearing must pay heed to the cries from the bereaved families and the public scorns for being unremorseful for their incompetence.
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