South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol repeatedly apologized for the Halloween disaster in Itaewon. He said he was deeply saddened and sorry as the president at a Buddhist ceremony for the victims on Friday. He also attended a Christian church on Saturday, the last day of the nation’s designated mourning period, and apologized by saying that a sense of regret for having been unable to protect the young people would never leave him. He attended a Catholic mass to commemorate the victims on Sunday.
The president had been hesitant to extend words of apology or regret during the last six months in the presidential office despite scandals about the appointment of government officials, the unseating of a candidate for the Cabinet and a minister, policy confusion, and his use of an insulting word in New York. He apologized only when Seoul and the nearby region experienced heavy rainfall, which led to deaths and much damage in August. Even on October 30, the day before the Itaewon crowd crush, he released a statement to the nation but did not directly express a word of apology.
Then, six days after the tragedy, he made apologies in the form of speeches at religious events. They came after it was revealed that the authorities failed to respond properly as recordings of people calling for the police force, citing the possibility of crowd crush, to 112 – the South Korea equivalent of 911 – were disclosed. I hope he releases an official message of apology on a separate occasion once the aftermath of the disaster is taken care of.
As the funeral procedures for the victims are coming to an end, it is time to clearly investigate the causes of the disaster and find out who was responsible for it. Follow-up measures and how to complement the disaster response system should be put forward to prevent similar accidents. The president should carry an ‘unlimited amount of responsibility.’ In particular, there should be no loophole or cutting some slack in identifying accountability and reprimanding.
First of all, Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min should be dismissed for making an absurd statement that the disaster couldn’t have been prevented by dispatching police officers. Even if the police reported in such a manner, being unable to filter that disqualifies him as a minister of safety. Personal relationships with the president should be completely disregarded. Commissioner General of the Korean National Police Agency Yoon Hee-keun should also be removed for failing to be properly briefed as he fell asleep after a day of hiking and drinking.
The family member of the victims, as well as the public who fell into a state of shock, will keep an eye on how the president addresses the disaster and makes necessary corrections to the country. The words of his apology, not backed by corresponding firm measures, will only accelerate people’s distrust in the president and the government.