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Implications: Despite increased emphasis on public safety from the central government, the inconsistent enforcement of regulations continue to create vulnerabilities. The Gangwon provincial government was prompted to engage in safety checks at lodging facilities after a similar gas explosion two years ago. However, regulators were unable to inspect rental vacation homes that were illegally listed as multi-dwelling homes. As a result of rigid regulatory interpretations, lodging facilities that potentially posed the greatest threat to the public were left out from routine inspections. This occurred even when the government had information that proved that these facilities were operating illegally. This case suggests that Korean regulators may be weighed down by bureaucratic rigidities and poor inter-agency coordination, creating obstacles for the consistent enforcement of safety regulations.
Context: The 2014 Sewol accident is the most notable example of a recent public safety failure. Laws were in place to restrict the dangerous practice of loading cargo above the regulated level. However, official inspectors failed to verify the specifications of the vessel Sewol after it was remodeled. This negligence led to the maritime accident that killed 304 ferry passengers. The disaster had major political ramifications as the Park Geun-hye administration was scrutinized for both shortcomings in preventative regulations and its poor handling of the disaster response. The recent resort accident shows that ensuring public safety remains a persistent public policy challenge in South Korea.
Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.
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