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S Korea ferry disaster probe highlights widespread corruption

Investigations into the South Korea ferry disaster revealed on Wednesday that the Sewol ferry owner had ignored repeated warnings over serious stability problems. These discoveries highlighted the widespread corruption and malpractices in the country. 

SEOUL: Investigations into the South Korea ferry disaster revealed on Wednesday that the Sewol ferry owner had ignored repeated warnings over serious stability problems.

These discoveries highlighted the widespread corruption and malpractices in the country.

When Prime Minister Chung Hong-won offered to resign over the weekend, taking responsibility for the tragedy, he touched a sensitive nerve.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Park Geun-hye vowed to eliminate what she and the local media call “government mafia”.

She said: "In order to get rid of shameful words like bureaucratic mafia, these deep-rooted evils of bureaucratic society should be found and completely eliminated. I will carry this out to a standard that will satisfy the people."

The term “bureaucratic” or “government mafia” refers to the widely-known practice of retired high-ranking government officials from ministries and regulatory agencies finding posts in different industries.

In these new roles, they are frequently alleged to help private sector companies forge links with regulatory agencies.

Many South Koreans have blamed this practice for the widespread corruption in the country and lax safety enforcement.

Park said: "I regret so much that this incident has happened as we failed to set right evils long accumulated from the past."

According to prosecutors, the regular captain of the ship Sewol had warned the ship operator - Cheonghaejin Marine Company - of serious stability problems after the ship was refurbished.

More passenger cabins built on the third, fourth and fifth decks had altered the balance of the ship.

But the warning was brushed aside by the company and the ship passed safety inspections by the Korean Register of Shipping in 2012 and 2013.

Prosecutors recently raided the offices of Korean Register, saying they were investigating malpractices and corruption in the entire shipping industry.

The offices of the Korea Shipping Association, a trade group of shipping companies and owners that certify cargo safety, have also been raided.

According to reports - eight of the register's 10 presidents and all the heads of the Shipping Association Board originated from government ministries.

The exact cause of the disaster is still unknown, but investigations so far hint that corruption has played a role.

Only last year, Park ordered officials to wipe out corruption, following a series of nuclear reactor shutdowns and a scandal.

About 100 people were charged over this scandal involving fake safety certificates.

Investigations into the ferry disaster have shown that corruption may be entrenched in more than one sector.

Increasingly, South Koreans are questioning the effectiveness of Park's efforts to eliminate corruption.  

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