| Rival political parties have agreed Friday to launch a parliamentary investigation into the fatal sinking of the ferry Sewol after passing a relevant motion on next Tuesday. They will investigate various government organizations including the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, the Korea Coast Guard, the Navy, the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, the Ministry of National Defense, the Office of the Prime Minister and even the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae. The probe will look into all issues from situation reports to Cheong Wa Dae, causes of the government`s failed early response and problems in the government`s disaster response system.
Instructions given by President Park Geun-hye on the day of the sinking raise a suspicion that the presidential office failed to get an accurate grasp of the situation. The government has failed to make a convincing explanation as to why the vice minister of Security and Public Administration told a news briefing that everyone on board the ship had been rescued. Also controversial is an inappropriate remark by presidential security adviser Kim Jang-soo that the National Security Council was not the "control tower" for disasters. The parliamentary probe should look into such issues.
Regarding the proposed investigation of President Park, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy argues that anyone involved in the case should be investigated, while the ruling Saenuri Party opposes the proposal, claiming that it would be unprecedented. The Constitution gives the president immunity from criminal investigations and prosecution but does not have any clause on parliamentary investigation of the president. However, if the opposition party attempts to play politics with the Sewol investigation, the attempt would backfire. The purpose of the parliamentary probe is to figure out ways to improve the system in order to prevent such disasters from occurring again. If the parliament fails to adopt a proper investigation report after a series of noisy hearings, it would not be able to avoid strong public criticisms.
The launch of a joint investigation team involving political parties and civilians that the president promised to establish should be accelerated. An investigative committee involving representatives from the victims` bereaved families should find truths about the disaster and come up with measures to prevent recurrence of such accidents. Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States presented a 585-page report after interviewing 1,200 people in 10 countries and studying 2.5 million pages of documents. South Korea should also make a proper white paper on the ferry disaster even if it takes several years. It is necessary for President Park to testify before an investigative committee, just as former U.S. President George W. Bush did.
At the time of the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in March 2011, 651, or 90 percent of the 720-strong staff workers, fled the plant, defying the plant manager`s order to remain at the site. The fact had been concealed for three years until a document containing testimonies by Masao Yoshida, the plant chief, to the Japanese government뭩 investigation committee. This speaks volume for Seoul`s efforts to shed light on the ferry disaster. Investigators should also look into whether numerous announcements by government agencies were false.