President Moon Jae-in called for efforts to improve the daily lives of the people Tuesday, calling it the government's No. 1 priority.
"The Republic of Korea is a country built by the sweat and blood of its people. Thanks to the people's devotion and efforts, it has become the world's 10th-largest economy and will soon open an era of US$30,000 per capita income," the president said in a special meeting with top government officials at his office Cheong Wa Dae, referring to South Korea by its official name.
"We ought to offer our respect and appreciation to our proud people. But at the same time, we cannot but look back on what the nation has done for the people," Moon said, according to Cheong Wa Dae pool reports.
"We must reflect on ourselves to see if the benefits of our economic growth are adequately returned to the people, whether justice and fairness are at the heart of the people's daily lives as they should be based on the level of our democratization, and whether the lives and safety of the people, which are the most basic of the basic rights of the people, are adequately protected."
Moon's remarks followed a series of recent tragic accidents, including a fire at a local hospital earlier this week that left 37 people dead and more than 140 others injured.
The president said the government must change how it works and, more importantly, how it treats the people.
"First, we must correctly prioritize our policy objectives. We must place first priority on protection of the people's lives. We must once again remind ourselves that each and every government task begins with protecting the lives and safety of the people," the president told the meeting.
Tuesday's meeting, the first of its kind since Moon took office, was aimed at discussing the government's main policy objectives for the year and ways to implement them. It comes after the president skipped annual new year reports from government ministries.
Normally, the president is briefed by each government ministry on its policy goals at the start of each year, but Moon had Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon receive such reports this year, apparently as part of efforts to delegate more power to the prime minister, one of his key election pledges.
The meeting involved 24 ministers and ministerial-level officials, along with around 60 vice ministerial-level officials from ministries and government committees, according to Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon urged the ministers and other officials to only work for the people.
"The subject you must all answer to is not the president but the people," he said. "Every policy must be pursued from the people's perspective. Even if a policy is reasonable and justified, it could easily be a mistake from the very start should it be moved forward without listening to what the people want."
Later in his closing remarks, the president stressed the importance of efforts to include even the smallest voice in making a major policy decision.
"Even if the majority are in favor, it is hard to move forward if the minority opinion is strong. We need efforts to convince the minority before making a decision instead of ignoring them just because of their small numbers," he said.
The president also called for increased efforts to communicate with the people.
"True communication between the government and people is only possible when the government sincerely pays attention to the people's voice and accurately lets them know the government's position," the president said.
Tuesday's meeting consisted of three separate sessions, according to Cheong Wa Dae officials.
The first session focused on the goals and direction of state management, while the second session discussed ways to promote government innovation and communication between the government and the people.
Moon proposed adding a new policy objective of creating a work environment in which female workers may freely report any sexual abuse without having to fear negative consequences, Cheong Wa Dae said.
The proposal came after a female public prosecutor claimed to have been sexually harassed in 2010 by a senior prosecutor who was then working at the justice ministry.
The female prosecutor claimed she was forced to remain silent as the ministry tried to cover up the incident and that she was transferred to another post in 2015, apparently because of the incident.
Moon noted the accusation still needed to be confirmed in a future investigation but that it shed light on how difficult it may be for female workers to speak out when they are mistreated or even sexually harassed.
"I ask you to create a culture that such sexual harassment or sexual assault will never take place again. Also, it is important to create an environment where victims can raise questions without any fear," the president was quoted as saying.
Tuesday's meeting ended after a dinner session during which the president and other participants discussed ways to successfully host the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games to be held from Feb. 9-25, Cheong Wa Dae said. (Yonhap News)