[Editorial] Interior and safety minister’s unacceptable sidestepping remarks

Posted on : 2022-11-01 14:58 KST Modified on : 2022-11-01 14:58 KST
If the Ministry of the Interior and Safety won’t shoulder responsibility for Koreans’ safety, who will?
Interior Minister Lee Sang-min speaks to reporters after paying his respects to victims of the Itaewon crowd crush at a joint altar set up in Seoul Plaza on Oct. 31. (Yonhap)
Interior Minister Lee Sang-min speaks to reporters after paying his respects to victims of the Itaewon crowd crush at a joint altar set up in Seoul Plaza on Oct. 31. (Yonhap)

On Monday, South Korean Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min stuck to his stance that there was nothing wrong about the small police presence for Halloween festivities in the Seoul neighborhood of Itaewon, the site of a deadly crowd crush this past Saturday. Lee also cautioned against “jumping to conclusions” and “making inflammatory political claims.”

Far from apologizing for an incident that left 303 people dead or wounded, the head of the very government body responsible for overseeing disaster safety is busy avoiding responsibility.

“It’s doubtful whether a shortage of police officers or firefighters was the cause of this accident,” Lee told reporters at an altar for the victims in downtown Seoul on Monday.

Lee was pilloried in the court of public opinion for his remarks on Sunday that “the crowds weren’t big enough to arouse concern” and that “this issue couldn’t have been resolved by deploying more police officers or firefighters in advance.”

Nevertheless, Lee kept playing a numbers game on Monday, comparing an increase in the number of people at the festival and the number of police officers.

This was the first big festival to be held since the government lifted the mask mandate, and there had been several days’ warning about the risk of masses of revelers congregating at Itaewon. In short, the government shouldn’t have taken a hands-off approach just because the festival didn’t have a clear organizer.

There are inevitable criticisms to be made about the grave lack of police officers assigned to maintain order and about the lack of organic ties between the local government and the private sector.

But when the government’s chief coordinator for disaster management keeps making comments aimed at dodging responsibility, one can’t help wondering who on earth is shouldering responsibility for public safety.

There needs to be a transparent accounting of what caused this astonishing disaster and who should be held responsible. That can lay the groundwork for taking definite measures to prevent further disasters of this kind, which is the best way to console the victims.

But while Lee acknowledged the importance of determining the exact cause of the disaster, he smeared criticism about the police absence as an “inflammatory political claim.”

While the Ministry of the Interior and Safety expressed its “regret” late on Monday afternoon, officials still haven’t figured out where they went wrong.

The first duty of the state is to protect the lives and safety of the people. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety defines its primary mission as “keeping Koreans safe from various disasters.”

So we can’t help but call out the interior minister when he rubs salt in the wounds of the bereaved families and the public while denying the state’s very raison d'être

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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