August 11, 2023
SEOUL – South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol is facing increasing calls to dismiss key ministers, including Gender Equality and Family Minister Kim Hyun-sook, over the mishandling of the World Scout Jamboree at Saemangeum, on reclaimed land in Buan, North Jeolla Province.
Lawmakers in South Korea are urging that ministers responsible for the event be removed from their posts once the jamboree — which carries a price tag of 117 billion won ($88.7 million) — ends as planned Saturday.
“Primarily, an international apology should come first and foremost, then a proper state inspection and the sacking of ministers who bear the biggest liabilities should follow,” Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the ruling People Power Party said in a radio interview Wednesday.
“(The whole of) South Korea is to blame,” Ahn said.
Ahn added that without an apology or stern internal recourse by the government, Korea could face legal action by parents of Scouts who were dissatisfied with this year’s global event, which is typically held every four years.
Rep. Yong Hye-in of the minor progressive Basic Income Party added to this sentiment in a press conference Wednesday, calling for the resignations of Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min, in addition to Family Minister Kim.
Yong added that President Yoon is ultimately to blame for the jamboree debacle, given that Yoon made the promise of “relentless support” in March and that there was enough time to mitigate and resolve related problems.
These comments fell in line with remarks by the People Power Party spokesperson’s statement Tuesday that those who misused taxpayers’ money or acted with negligence in preparation for the jamboree “must face consequences if their wrongdoings are laid bare.”
Nearly three-quarters of the total budget for the World Scout Jamboree earlier this week was revealed to have been used for operational and personnel expenses by the organizers, including lavish overseas business trips as “field trips,” triggering speculation on corruption within the organizing bodies.
Family Minister Kim’s remarks sparked further public uproar. When asked whether the botched jamboree management could affect Korea’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan, Kim said Tuesday that adjustments made to relocate from the Saemangeum jamboree site are “proof that Korea is capable of risk management” when dealing with a catastrophic event.
Kim was also under fire for Sunday’s remarks for describing a case involving a Thai man in a women’s shower facility at the jamboree as being “minor,” amid sex crime allegations. On Wednesday morning, the Family Ministry canceled a briefing from Kim just 10 minutes before the scheduled time, without elaborating as to the reason why.
The recent comments showed a contrast from Kim’s remarks during a parliamentary audit in 2022 that the jamboree site is “all set for countermeasures” when asked about the delayed installation of shower booths, restrooms, drinking water fountains and water drainage infrastructure.
The Family Ministry was one of three co-hosts of the event, along with the provincial government of North Jeolla Province and the World Organization of the Scout Movement.
In a briefing with reporters Tuesday, Prime Minister Han said that it is not appropriate to start discussing who is to blame and whether a state inspection should take place as the World Scout Jamboree was still ongoing.
This comes as the Yoon administration is struggling to keep the jamboree afloat in the face of Typhoon Khanun, which is set to make landfall on the peninsula early Thursday.
Tens of thousands of scouts were forced to leave Saemangeum — the jamboree venue criticized for insufficient shade, shortages of food and water, failed pest management and filthy shower booths and restrooms — without completing the program.
Prior to the relocation, thousands of participants suffered heat-related illnesses due to extreme summer temperatures, while scores of scouts also tested positive for COVID-19. Scouts of countries like the United Kingdom and United States moved out of the venue prior to the confirmation by organizers of the early departure from Saemangeum on Monday.
Incidents involving Scouts continued after their early departure. At least 10 Scouts from Switzerland were reported to be injured as a bus carrying 36 Scouts collided with another bus in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.