What They Said covers the South Korean headlines and the conversation around them.
The shambles of the 25th World Scout Jamboree (dubbed the “Saemangeum Jamboree” in South Korea) seems to have made headlines around the world. While the weather in North Jeolla Province was a key factor, it was impossible to look past the glaring lack of preparation.
The situation has turned into a topic of political dispute between the government and the opposition parties. In an interview with Kyunghyang Sinmun on August 4, a high-ranking official from the Office of the President shifted the blame onto the former administration:
“The preparation period [for the Jamboree] was during the Moon Jae-in administration. The former administration had prepared for the event for five years.”
— The Office of the President, high-ranking official August 4
Politicians from the People Power Party made similar assertions, issuing the following statement the next day:
“The World Scout Jamboree in Saemangeum, the largest international event [held in South Korea] since the pandemic, has been plagued by instances of heat-related illnesses and other issues, which have revealed inadequate preparation and operational inefficiency.
Actually, the Jamboree in Saemangeum was an event that received significant attention from President Moon Jae-in, who showed active interest by mentioning it during his first senior-secretary-level meeting after taking office. In his first year, President Moon successfully attracted the Jamboree to Saemangeum, and in the subsequent year, even passed a special legislation to support the event.
Song Ha-jin, former governor of North Jeolla Province, led the charge in securing the Jamboree and increased budget allocation, and claimed these accomplishments as his own.
Therefore, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration maintained continuity in the event’s preparation framework that was established over the five years of the Moon Jae-in administration, making preparations led by Kim Kwan-young, governor of North Jeolla Province and current executive director of the event, with the government providing administrative and financial support.
Kim Yoon-deok, a Democratic Party member appointed as an organizing committee co-chairman in July 2020, is still serving in the same position.
Even before the bid for the Jamboree was made, a feasibility study in 2016 had already highlighted possible drainage and heat-related issues. At that time, North Jeolla Province pledged to plant trees as a solution, but no further action was taken, leading to the current situation.
Moreover, the inadequate sanitary facilities at the Jamboree site raise doubts about the appropriate utilization of the 100 billion won budget allocated over six years since it was decided that the Jamboree would be held in Saemangeum.
Just like the saying “empty vessels make the most noise”, the Moon Jae-in administration extensively promoted the Jamboree throughout his term, and the former and current governors of North Jeolla Province used the Jamboree to bolster their own careers, from attracting the event to the preparation and operation of the event. But what exactly have they accomplished?
Regardless of the reasons, to overcome this unprecedented crisis in an international event, President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the government to take direct control, rather than leaving it in the hands of the North Jeolla Province and others.
Despite this, the Democratic Party consistently displays shameless hypocrisy, feigning ignorance of the Moon Jae-in administration and its former and current governors’ irresponsibility for the situation while criticizing the Yoon Suk Yeol administration.
The People Power Party will oppose the Democratic Party’s attempts to politicize the Jamboree issue at Saemangeum and will, along with the Yoon Suk Yeol administration, concentrate all its efforts on ensuring the success of the remaining schedule of the Jamboree.
Furthermore, to prevent the recurrence of such unfortunate incidents in future international events, we will conduct a thorough investigation of the causes and identify those who should be held accountable.”
— Kang Min-kuk, senior spokesperson for the People Power Party, August 5, 2023
The opposition Democratic Party of Korea responded by criticizing the administration and the PPP for once again shifting the blame for their own failures onto the former administration.
“The Office of the President presidential office responded to various criticisms of the World Scout Jamboree by stating, ‘’The preparation period was during the Moon Jae-in administration. The event was prepared over the course of five years under the previous government.’ This is the essence of shameless hypocrisy.
The Yoon Suk Yeol administration shifting the blame onto someone else is getting tiresome. How long do they intend to continue blaming others without any sense of shame? When will the Yoon Suk Yeol administration finally acknowledge its responsibilities? Will they keep blaming others until the very last day of his term? This blame-shifting is growing ever more serious.
The one who disregarded the suggestion from North Jeolla Province to postpone the event and insisted on holding it as scheduled, leading to the current debacle, is Kim Hyun-sook, Minister of Gender Equality and Family under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration.
The one who promised to address flooding issues through drainage and riverbank improvement but failed to devise a budget plan is Han Duck-soo, the Prime Minister of the Yoon Suk Yeol administration.
The one who, just a week before the event failed to implement any measures despite observing the situation on-site, is Lee Sang-min, Minister of Public Administration and Safety under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration.
The one who was inaugurated as the Honorary President of the Korean Scout Association and pledged generous support is President Yoon Suk Yeol himself. Where is the generous support that the president promised?
Will blaming others bring an end to this crisis? Don’t evade the responsibilities that the Yoon Suk Yeol administration should shoulder. Indulging in privileges while trying to shirk responsibilities is a behavior that leads a people to despair.
What the president and the government should do now is to responsibly rectify the international embarrassment that the Jamboree has become.”
— Kang Sun-woo, spokesperson for the Democratic Party, August 4, 2023
Amidst the political blame games, everyone agreed that the first and foremost issue at hand was to see the Jamboree through until its finish on August 12.
The event, however, was cut short on August 8 due to the incoming Typhoon Khanun. The participants were rehoused around Seoul and the Jamboree effectively wrapped up on August 11 with a K-pop concert.
On August 13, former president Moon Jae-in posted on Facebook:
“We have lost a lot from the Saemangeum Jamboree. We’ve lost our national dignity and pride. Shame has become a burden shared by our people.
We lacked preparation, and thus even the heavens did not lend their help.
The expectations of the people of North Jeolla Province, who exerted all efforts to attract the event, thinking it a crucial opportunity to promote Saemangeum to the world for economic development and revitalize the underdeveloped local economy, have turned into disappointment and disgrace.
May this failure serve as a bitter lesson, and may South Korea rise again, proudly and resiliently. To the disappointed people, to the scouts from all around the world, to the residents of North Jeolla Province and the sponsoring companies, as the President during the time of the bid for the event, I offer my apologies and heartfelt consolation.”
— Moon Jae-in, former president of the Republic of Korea, August 13, 2023
On the other hand, President Yoon Suk Yeol remarked that the event ended “without much difficulty”.
In the meantime, the People Power Party and the Democratic Party continue to bicker over how the event unfolded and who should be held accountable.
On August 13, the Democratic Party made its position clear:
“The Saemangeum Jamboree, marred by comprehensive failure, has finally concluded. Despite being in power for a year and three months, the true face of the ‘blame others’ administration, incompetent in understanding its own responsibilities, has been revealed to the world. …
What exactly is the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s approach to governing the nation? Sensible governance is nowhere to be found, and making snap judgments on all matters and grilling lower-ranking officials have become the norm. …
The Jamboree incident, which was marked by overall incompetence and failure, must not be repeated. The Democratic Party of Korea will strive to identify the responsible parties so that the Yoon Suk Yeol administration can regain its senses.”
— Park Seong-jun, spokesperson for the Democratic Party, August 13, 2023
On August 14, the People Power Party leader Kim Kihyun stated:
“Now, what needs to be done is to thoroughly examine whether the substantial budget has been properly utilized. Shifting the issue of inadequate preparation for the Jamboree into a political dispute will not contribute in any way to identifying the causes and devising measures to prevent a recurrence.
However, the Democratic Party continues to place blame solely and relentlessly [on the current administration and the ruling party (translator’s addition)], calling the event the ‘Jamboree that ended in comprehensive incompetence and failure.’ It makes us wonder if it is because the Democratic Party has many foul and dubious things that would come to light once we begin an investigation.”
— Kim Kihyun, leader of the People Power Party, August 14, 2023
Perhaps the two parties should do as they say: stop arguing and agree on seeing an investigation through.