A probe for the history booksPolitical parties have reached agreement to hold a 90-day legislative investigation into the April 16 sinking of the Sewol ferry in which more than 300 were killed or went missing. Rival parties set aside partisan differences and approved an outline for the probe under pressure from victims’ families, who have been camping outside the National Assembly for days.
One major issue in the wrangling was whether Kim Ki-choon, the president’s chief of staff, would be summoned for questioning. The solution to that thorny issue was not to specifically summon Kim by name, but to require chiefs of his office to come in for questioning as key witnesses. Also summoned will be people from 18 government offices, including the presidential secretariat, national security council, prime minister’s office, National Intelligence Service, Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the Korea Coast Guard, Ministry of National Defense, the Korea Communications Commission and four state agencies: the Korean Register of Shipping, the Korea Shipping Association and public broadcasters KBS and MBC. The scope and scale will be unprecedented, as it should be given the gravity of the crisis that uncovered comprehensive and deep-seated problems such as complacency about public safety, administrative carelessness, lax oversight, collusion and corruption in the bureaucracy, and in Korean customs, social and cultural norms. The parliamentary probe, which will dominate the political scene for most of the summer after it starts next week, must serve as a tipping point for the entire society to question why we care so little about safety in this country and how to finally outgrow our immature ways.
Politicians must be aware that this legislative probe isn’t a political contest but a historical mission to come to terms with Korea’s flaws. The causes must be revisited from the very beginning of the Sewol crisis to paint the whole picture of how a ferry with more than 400 people on board listed and sank within easy reach of help, both from the sky and on land. We hope the 18 members on the special committee will write a report that will go down in Korean history as the Bible for improving public safety. Politicians may be tempted to grandstand and attack one another, but what matters in the investigation is the uncovering of truth behind the disaster. Only by capturing the truth can we partly atone for the deaths of so many young people and retool the country as a safer place. Legislators should be the first to prove that Korea can be reborn after the shame of the Sewol tragedy.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 31, Page 30