With no progress made on a special bill to determine the causes of the April ferry disaster, rival parties agreed to seek a solution in a new extraordinary session next week amid disputes over proposed compensation for victims’ families.
A clause within the “special Sewol bill” concerning how much judicial power to give the investigation team remains a sticking point impeding the bill’s legislation in the current extraordinary session. The proposed bill is named after the ferry that sunk in the West Sea on April 16, killing at least 293.
Ruling Saenuri Party and opposition officials failed to bridge major differences later Thursday despite marathon talks.
Opposition officials say giving the panel investigative powers is necessary to accurately identify the root causes of the Sewol accident. Families of the victims even say the panel should have indictment powers.
Saenuri officials oppose such plans. The probe team should be limited to studying the causes of the disaster, they say.
“Criminal investigations can at times violate physical and property rights of citizens. When misused, things can go wrong. Giving a parliamentary panel such powers in that light can be very dangerous,” Saenuri Rep. Hong Il-pyo said.
But with the current parliamentary session ending Thursday, senior Saenuri and opposition officials agreed to kick off another extraordinary session on July 21 to hopefully pass the special Sewol bill and other key legislations.
Opposition officials however declared they would not resume negotiations over the special Sewol bill unless the Saenuri Party changed its attitudes.
“Saenuri officials are coming to negotiations unprepared,” main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Jung Cheong-rae said. “In our first meeting last week they had no plan of their own, and had difficulty even understanding our proposals.”
Public opinion is also divided over the prospective law.
Lawmakers agreed on giving reparation payments to families and even assisting the surviving students at Danwon High School with college admission.
Of the more than 300 dead or missing, over 240 were Danwon teachers and students on a school trip to Jejudo Island.
Critics say, however, that giving money to victims’ families and college admissions benefits to survivors is unwarranted. Editorials in local newspapers have even called such policies “populist.”
“It is doubtful the families of the victims ever asked for such benefits. Then it begs the question: Why did lawmakers decide to go ahead with these populist ideas?” said one editorial on Tuesday.
Families and lawyers from the Korean Bar Association, who are providing legal assistance to the bereaved, echoed such reports.
“Families have consistently asked that the (special Sewol bill) focus on identifying the causes of the disaster and ensuring that similar accidents never happen again,” a press release from the KBA on Wednesday read. “Such actions must take priority over any benefit the families receive.”
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)