“The captain and several crew members have a direct responsibility for the tragedy”
34 days after the accident, President Park Geunhye apologized saying "The ultimate responsibility for failing to properly deal with the disaster lies with me." At the same time, Park highlighted that the immediate cause of the accident was the dereliction of duty by the captain and some crew members and that the problems of the so-called bureaucratic mafia should be ended.
In a televised national address, she announced sweeping reforms: The Park administration will dismantle the Coast Guard. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration will be divested of its core duties for safety as well as personnel and organizational issues. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Ocean and Fisheries Vessel Traffic Services Center (VTS) will be merged into a soon-to-be established national emergency safety agency.
She singled out cozy relations between the government and the private sector as the main culprit behind the accident. To eradicate the collusive links, the government will increase the current number of firms and organizations where the employment of retired government officials is restricted. In addition, the period during which employment is restricted after retirement will be extended to three years from the current two years. Also, the government will begin a new employment history disclosure system for senior government officials so that their employment period and positions will be made public for ten years after retirement.
As part of efforts to enhance the current regulations limiting the employment of retired government officials, the Park administration will introduce a new recruitment process through which the ratio of grade-5 government officials selected through the state examinations to experienced professionals from the private sector will be 5:5. In order to hire civilian professionals in a fair manner, a central examination and selection committee will be set up.
Park said "Given that severing the collusive ties of former and current government officials is significant, the government has presented the so-called Kim Youngran Act, a bill that bans illegal solicitation. I urge the National Assembly to pass the bill as soon as possible." Under the act, civil servants caught accepting a bribe from an associated person will be sentenced up to three years in prison or pay fines of up to KRW 30 million, irrespective of whether they accepted the bribe in return for favors.
Criticizing that Captain Lee Junseok and some of his crew members are the immediate cause of the tragedy, Park stated "We will propose revisions to our Criminal Act so that strict punishments are imposed on those whose actions cause grave human losses, or whose malicious tempering with food endangers many people. Also, the profits of businesses accumulated in the process of seeking interests in a greedy manner while doing much damage to the people and their properties will be restituted and used as financial resources to compensate the victims. Those businesses will be forced to shut down."
She added "We possess the fortitude and experience of having banded together, whenever our country faced difficulty, to overcome whatever crises lay before us. Now we must rise up from our despair and go forward. We must set our country right and make it new. I will work to rectify the wrong practices and the irregularities of the past and present and devote myself completely and fully to building a new Korea."
While mentioning the names of those who risked their lives to save others, President Park cried. "After giving his life vest to his younger sister and getting her off the boat, Kwon Hyekgyu disappeared among the missing. High school student Jeong Chawung took off his life vest for his friend and then went back into the water to save another friend. Choi Deokha made the first call notifying 119 emergency services of the accident, but he failed to come back. Teachers Nam Yuncheol and Choi Hyejeong did everything they could to save students. Crew members Park Jiyeong, Kim Giwung, and Jeong Hyeonseon, chief officer Yang Daehong, and civilian rescue diver Lee Gwangwuk sacrificed their lives to save others. They are the true heroes of our time."
"To honor the memory of the victims and be reminded of the importance of safety, I propose that a memorial be established and April 16 designated as National Safety Day," said Park.