PSPD in English Sewol Ferry Tragedy 2014-05-19   2393

[Commentary] Lacking in Acknowledgement of Responsibility, Fails to Mention Amendment in Government Agenda

Lacking in Acknowledgement of Responsibility, Fails to Mention Amendment in Government Agenda 

PSPD’s Position on the Official Speech made by President Park on the Sewol Ferry Tragedy

Plans for Redemption Not a Societal Agreement But A Beginning of a Discussion



(19 May 2014, Seoul) President Park Geun-hye restated her position on the Sewol Ferry Tragedy through an official speech to the people of Korea on May 19th. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy cannot but point out some of its concerns regarding the contents of President Park’s speech.  


First, President Park failed to mention the government’s plans to find the still-missing 18 victims of the tragic accident, an effort which is demanded by the families of the missing victims. It is questionable whether President Park has a good understanding of the sorrow and pain that is felt by the families of the victims. 


Second, although President Park acknowledged her responsibility for the tragedy as the head of state, her acknowledgement is still lacking in many ways. President Park pointed out the inept early-stage response and the failure of the Korean Coast Guard to save the victims, she failed to state what exactly led to such ineptitude and failures by the Korean Coast Guard, the National Emergency Management Agency, as well as the Ministry of Security and Public Administration and the Blue House. Compared to her meticulous presentation of the restructuring of government agencies and the revision of the standard of ethical conduct for government officers and employees proposed in the speech, her comments on the reasons behind the perceived failures in the rescue mission remain vague and unclear.


In particular, President Park failed to address the failures and the irresponsible attitudes shown by the Presidential Office, the administration unit directly under her command. The inappropriate attitudes and comments made by national security chief Kim Jang-soo, presidential office spokesperson Min Kyung-wook, and senior presidential public relations secretary Lee Jung-hyun have brought shock not only to the victims’ families but the general public, and prompted the people of Korea to question the meaning of having a presidential office. President Park’s speech did not acknowledge her responsibility for the actions made by senior officers at the presidential office but merely addressed in indirect and vague terms. 


Third, President Park failed to rethink the agendas pursued by her administration, in particular, deregulation and privatization of industries and fields that are directly and indirectly connected to the safety and lives of Korean people. The President and the Presidential Office show a lack of understanding on the realization reached by the Korean people for the need to change our society from its root. Corporations and greedy individuals are not the only ones that place highest priority on economy and profit – the Korean government has been fully cooperating and even promoting such trend.  Societal change cannot be gained if the basis of government policies and the role of the government remain the same. 


Fourth, it is important to note that the reasons behind the failures in the rescue response and the solutions presented by President Park is not a conclusion derived from societal consensus. President Park’s statements should be understood only as one position among the many that needs to be reviewed in the process of coming to a societal consensus – a process that has yet to begin. 


For instance, President Park presented a proposal to create a National Security Agency and to restructure government agencies, and asked for the National Assembly to approve the plans as quickly as possible. The present tragedy has shown all of us that there is a need for restructuring the government agencies involved in disaster relief and rescue. However, it is questionable that this solution presented by President Park, constructed by the secretaries and senior officers of the Presidential Office and a few experts over a two-week period, is based on adequate review and consideration that this task requires.


The government and the ruling party should not take the plans presented in President Park’s speech as a guideline that needs to be followed by all. An active discussion not only within the government but including the national assembly, the families of the victims, experts among the members of civil society who are independent from the government must be initiated for us to come to a consensus on what must follow from the Sewol Ferry Tragedy. The plan to make change must consider opinions from all facets and areas of society.  


Fifth, President Park mentioned that she also agrees in the creation of a national committee to investigate the Sewol Ferry Tragedy. The People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy believes that this committee must not be led by the government or the national assembly, but be a committee that is both independent and professional. 


The committee should be able to investigate the direct and indirect reasons behind the tragedy as well as the foundational causes and the government’s responses to the tragedy. The committee should also have the power to submit a proposal for the areas under the breadth of its investigations, and as such, the committee should be formed as a special agency. The committee must be guaranteed an appropriate length of time to gain the capabilities of an investigative organization, and also must be given the rights to forced(unconsented) investigation. The activities and related documents and sources must be available to the public and the victims and their families must be guaranteed the right to participate in the investigations.  


For more information or media inquiry, please contact People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (Ms. Gayoon Baek,, +82 (0)2 723 5051).


Korean Statement >> 세월호 참사 박 대통령 담화에 대한 입장


(Translated by Ms. Shinai Kwon, Volunteer)

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