Rough first day at parliament’s Sewol committee

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 2, 2014 - 21:10
  • Updated : Jun 3, 2014 - 17:49
The parliament’s special investigative committee on the Sewol accident got off to a rough start on Monday as the opposition criticized ruling party lawmakers for canceling a planned visit to Jindo Island without prior notice.

Ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers said earlier Monday the bereaved families had asked that the trip be canceled.

Opposition lawmakers voiced anger at the “unilateral” decision, saying the Sewol victims’ families had never done so. Opposition legislators took the train to Jindo Island as originally planned without their Saenuri counterparts.

A family representative of the Sewol victims said later in the day that the Saenuris had caused the postponement, without consulting the bereaved families.

Parliament’s investigative committee on the Sewol, formed last Thursday, was scheduled to visit Jindo Island to talk to the bereaved family members.

“A family member told us the families at Jindo (Island) were exhausted, and we should postpone the parliamentary investigative committee’s visit,” said Rep. Cho Won-jin of the Saenuri Party.

Opposition legislators were not told of the decision until Monday morning.

Rep. Shim Jae-cheol of the Saenuri Party, the panel’s head, changed the committee’s schedule to de-emphasize the Sewol accident, said Rep. Kim Hyun-mee of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy, referring to the postponing of the visit to after the local elections.

Saenuri Party officials said on Monday they would visit the accident site on Thursday, one day after the June 4 local elections.

The Sewol accident has been one of the central issues in the coming elections, with the ruling Saenuris suffering falling voter approval ratings for the government’s unsatisfactory rescue efforts last month.

A family representative said later Monday that the cancellation occurred after Shim called the government emergency task force in Jindo Island asking for a delay in the panel’s visit ― without consulting any of the victims’ family members.

“The task force then notified (the families at Jindo Island) of the delay, and we understood the decision as already having been agreed upon by government officials,” Yoo Gyoung-geun, a family representative of the Sewol victims, said at the site of the sinking.

The families at Jindo Island then went home to attend to personal matters after having stayed at the harbor for weeks since the April 16 accident.

“We later found out after talking to other families at Ansan that Shim had never consulted with any family member,” Yoo said.

“Shim’s comment that the visit did not happen because we asked for a delay is inaccurate.”

Parliament’s investigative commission on the Sewol consists of 19 lawmakers from the ruling and opposition blocs. It was formed last week after much bickering between rival parties over who would serve as official witnesses in the Sewol investigations.

More infighting is expected with the ruling and opposition blocs divided over who to call in as panel witnesses.

The NPAD is demanding that senior officials from the Park administration serve as witnesses, but the Saenuri Party has hesitated to summon senior Cabinet members.

By Jeong Hunny (