New task force created to probe ferry accident

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New task force created to probe ferry accident

The ruling and opposition parties yesterday launched a task force to investigate the April 16 ferry disaster and speedily legislate a special act in regard to the sinking.

However, despite pledging unity, there are expected to be schisms between the ruling and opposition parties, as well as the bereaved families, in how to proceed with the legislation.

Chief policy makers of the ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) held a press conference at the National Assembly to announce the formation of the task force, which is comprised of eight ruling and opposition lawmakers.

“We will discuss the opinions of the Saenuri Party, NPAD, the Justice Party and of course the victims’ families … and try hard [to enact the Sewol special act] by [July] 16,” said Joo Ho-young, the chief of the Saenuri’s policy committee.

On Thursday, President Park Geun-hye and the floor leaders of the Saenuri Party and NPAD agreed to pass the so-called Sewol special act at a plenary session on July 16 that will award jail terms of up to 100 years to people responsible for accidents or crimes that result in two or more deaths in order to prevent calamities like the Sewol sinking.

“We have no intention of making the issue a political one at all and need to speedily enact the legislation to compensate the victims and enable the public to overcome the disaster and head toward the future,” Woo Yoon-keun, chief of the NPAD’s policy committee, added at the briefing.

But the first meeting of the task force, convened yesterday after its announcement, concluded in just 30 minutes. A key issue is whether the special parliamentary committee for the Sewol crisis will be vested investigation and prosecution rights.

A committee of family members of victims of the Sewol sinking are pushing for the special investigative committee to be granted investigative and prosecution authority. The Saenuri is completely opposed to the idea, while NPAD wants to only grant investigative rights to the Sewol committee.

The victims’ families also called for the special Sewol investigative committee to have a time frame of at least two years, with the possibility of a one-year extension. The ruling party wants a six-month order with a three-month extension and the opposition a one-year period with the possibility of a one-year extension.

“We need to make decisions clearly debating whether they are reasonably within logical range” on such various issues, said Joo, adding that issue regarding investigative and prosecution rights “will have to be discussed and decided upon within the task force.”

“While indictment is an inherent right to prosecutors, there is a need for a special jurisdiction to grant investigation rights,” Joo said.

The National Assembly’s special committee devoted to investigating the Sewol ferry accident also concluded its final general session yesterday after hearings from officials from some 22 agencies over the past month on the government’s mismanaged rescue attempt on the day of the ferry sinking.

The special parliamentary committee consists of lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties, who began a separate probe into the accident on June 2. They held their first joint general meeting on June 30.

The bereaved families expressed rage, however, and protested as the government probe came to a close.

The special committee will hold a hearing from Aug. 4 to Aug. 8 to question former National Security Council chief Kim Jang-soo, former National Intelligence Service chief Nam Jae-joon and other Blue House officials who were on duty at the time of the accident.

During the special committee meeting, Representative Cho Won-jin of the Saenuri Party came under fire after he tried to defend the Blue House role in the accident and said, “When there are disasters such as the avian flu or a mountain fire, the president cannot make direct orders.”

Kim Hyun, a lawmaker of the NPAD replied, “That is not a valid comparison. Are you comparing the victims to chickens?”

This prompted fierce complaints from the bereaved families listening from the gallery, after which Saenuri Representative Shim Jae-chul, the chairman of the committee, ordered them to leave the room. Opposition lawmakers in response demanded that Shim apologize to the family members and step down as chairman.

BY SARAH KIM, KANG TAE-HWA [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]





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