Sewol kin outraged by investigation ordinance

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Sewol kin outraged by investigation ordinance

The cabinet approved an ordinance for a special investigation into the sinking of the Sewol ferry in the face of ongoing protest from the relatives of the victims, who claim the direction would certainly undermine the independence and objectivity of the probe.

During a meeting presided over by Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan on Wednesday, the Cabinet passed an ordinance proposed by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries that allows a committee of 90 public and civilian experts to investigate the accident.

More than 300 passengers were killed last year after the ferry capsized in waters off Jindo, South Jeolla. The ordinance will take effect immediately once it is approved by President Park Geun-hye. She is expected to OK the edict later this month.

Under the ordinance, which was proposed in March, the special investigative committee will work up to one year and can expand its probe for another six months if it so decides.

However, it has drawn sharp protest from the families of the victims, who are certain that it would hamper the objectivity and independence of the investigation, in which officials are looking into the cause of the sinking and the reasons for the government’s botched rescue efforts.

Their primary complaint centers on a clause that would enable government officials to take key positions within the special committee. Under the ordinance, a government official will serve as an administrative director on the special committee and be tasked with consulting the panel’s other members in steering the course of the investigation.

The ordinance also stipulates that 49 civilian experts and 36 public experts will comprise the 90-member special investigation committee. The other five members are standing members chosen by the ruling and opposition parties.

The committee was established under a law passed by the National Assembly last year with support from both the ruling party and the opposition. The ordinance, however, is separate from that law.

The families opposed to the ordinance say the government is deliberately undermining the independence and objectivity of the investigation to save it from embarrassment pending the findings, particularly concerning its poorly coordinated rescue efforts that doomed many of the victims.

An association of the victims’ families issued a statement Wednesday condemning the edict’s passage and vowed to fight it.

“The ordinance is a direct violation of the principle that a fair and objective investigation should be conducted by a special investigative committee independent [from the government],” it read, adding that appointing government officials to take key positions on the committee was akin to empowering a criminal with the authority to investigate oneself.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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