Assembly fails to begin Sewol disaster probe

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 26, 2014 - 21:07
  • Updated : May 26, 2014 - 21:07
The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy failed to form an investigative committee on the Sewol disaster on Monday, amid bickering over who should be selected as witnesses.

Witnesses to the committee must include senior public officials, NPAD lawmakers said, while Saenuri Party legislators said presetting witnesses to a National Assembly investigation violated the committee’s right to conduct a probe independently.

“Arranging in advance who the witnesses will be … is ridiculous,” said a Saenuri Party official. “We should get this committee started so we can officially request related documents from government agencies and begin investigations.”

The opposition refused to budge, saying investigations without specific plans would likely falter and become meaningless.

“Launching the committee and then spending all our time arguing over who should be witnesses would be unacceptable,” said NPAD Rep. Kim Hyun-mee. Kim is the NPAD’s chief representative to parliament’s Sewol investigations.

Nam Jae-joon, Yoo Jeong-bok and Chung Hong-won are some of those being considered as key witnesses, according to an NPAD official.

Nam is the former director of the National Intelligence Service, Yoo the former Security and Public Administration Minister, and Chung the current Prime Minister. Chung is expected to officially step down from his post within weeks because of the government’s bungled rescue efforts in the wake of the Sewol’s sinking. The Ministry of Security and Public Administration oversees national safety regulations.

Yoo’s inclusion could disrupt the ruling party’s June local election plans if the Saenuris give in. Yoo is the party’s Incheon mayoral candidate.

“It will be tough for the Saenuri Party to accept the NPAD’s provisions before the local elections,” said Choi Young-jin, professor of Korean politics at Chung-Ang University. “Accepting the provisions would mean the Saenuris are accepting some responsibility for the Sewol disaster.”

The public outrage over the government’s widely criticized response to the maritime accident compelled legislators last Wednesday to declare plans to form a special committee to examine the causes of the Sewol debacle and improve related regulations.

Rep. Cho Won-jin of the Saenuri Party and Rep. Kim of the NPAD will continue to negotiate the formation of the parliamentary committee although neither party has shown any sign of yielding.

The Saenuri Party and the NPAD have agreed that officials from the Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries will be probed. Government support plans for victims and media companies accused of misreporting key statistics such as the number of survivors will also be reviewed.

By Jeong Hunny (