Special session for remorseThe ruling Saenuri Party and opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy will soon convene a special session of National Assembly to deal with the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry. Politicians must now think about a fundamental issue beyond the important task of figuring out what led to the massive disaster at sea and measures to prevent such a manmade-calamity in the future.
Politics is about wiping out people’s tears, pointing to politicians’ active role in overcoming a national crisis. But our politicians failed to meet the public expectations before and after the Sewol sank, as seen in the remarkable plunge of approval ratings for President Park Geun-hye and the ruling and opposition parties. Instead, it has ended up with a noticeable increase in the number of independents.
Our politicians deserve a cold shoulder from the public. If they had done their job faithfully, such a crisis would not have occurred. Instead, a critical lack of oversight by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries on the shipping industry, dirty connections between the ministry and its related industries, the lethargic reaction of the Coast Guard, the confusion and almost nonexistent coordination among disaster management authorities and porous safety information by the Ministry of Education all contributed to the fateful calamity at sea.
Such disasters can be prevented by the legislature’s innate oversight function. The National Assembly conducts a large-scale probe of national governance once a year. If its standing committees had closely monitored the ministries of oceans and fisheries, security and public administration, and education, they could have averted a large portion of corruption and malpractice.
The U.S. Congress established a bipartisan fact-finding committee after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and compiled a 600-page report through one-on-one interviews and a number of public hearings, followed by a comprehensive measures like the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and reinforcement of public diplomacy for underdeveloped countries. In the meantime, our lawmakers are only engrossed in political fights.
We hope the extraordinary session of the Assembly is devoted to reflecting our legislators’ dereliction of duties and moving forward. The opposition’s demand for an independent counsel to dig into the case is not appropriate, given the prosecution’s ongoing investigations. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle need to discuss the introduction of a legislative probe and public hearings, as they could help educate people in the future.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 34