Truth before politics
A special committee investigating last year’s Sewol ferry disaster is teetering on the brink of collapse due to a clash between rival parties over expanding the probe to include the role of President Park Geun-hye in managing the crisis. In an executive-level meeting om Wednesday, the committee decided to accept the request from victims’ relatives to assess the role played by the president in leading the rescue operation after the ferry capsized and started to sink in the southwestern seas in April 2014, which claimed the lives of 304 people.
The special committee was established early this year to work out measures to prevent such deadly man-made calamities from recurring through a thorough investigation of the cause of the sinking. Committee members recommended by the main opposition party said the whereabouts of the president during the first seven hours of the sinking would also be examined in the probe. Members recommended by the ruling party threatened to resign if such an investigation takes place. The Saenuri Party threatened to cut the budget for committee activities, saying that the board has overstepped its authority.
The internal friction in the committee is bound to disappoint the public, which has a desire to learn the truth behind the tragedy. Of the 476 passengers on the ill-fated ship, 295 students lost their lives on their way to a field trip. The ferry embodies all the shameful and shadowy irregularities and malpractices behind the country’s fast growth - corporate greed to make money with little regard for public welfare by illegally redesigning the ferry to increase passenger and cargo capacity, deeply-rooted collusion between companies and bureaucrats, and the selfish flight to safety by the captain and some crew members to save themselves with little care for passengers.
The committee must study the blueprints of the ferry, as well as the recent Supreme Court ruling on the captain and crew’s cowardice, to analyze all the factors behind the tragic sinking. Any mistakes by the government and president could come later.
The committee has its priorities wrong if it wants to start with a probe of the president. What the public really wants to know is the cause of the accident. The United States published a 567-page report on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks after interviewing 1,200 people and investigating for nearly three years. The report helped unite Americans in the end. The Sewol special committee should take inspiration from that.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 20, Page 34