Korea parliament passes three Sewol bills

Korea parliament passes three Sewol bills

Three bills aimed at addressing issues surrounding the April 16 ferry disaster were passed at Friday's plenary session of the National Assembly, concluding months of dispute.

The three bills - the special Sewol bill and revisions to the Government Organisation Act and the Act on Regulation of Punishment of Criminal Proceeds Concealment - were passed, as agreed by the two main parties. Their passage had been held back a day due to friction over government restructuring at the parliamentary Security and Public Administration Committee. (Yonhap)

The revised Government Organisation Act is aimed at strengthening and streamlining the government's response to disasters and safety issues by reorganizing related state agencies. The core of the revision is the establishment of a new ministry to oversee all safety and emergency functions of the government. The changes will also see a new deputy prime minister in charge of social issues taking office.

The special bill is aimed at shedding light on the developments that led to the accident, while the revision to the law on the proceeds of crime will give the authorities more power to confiscate unlawfully gained assets.

The special Sewol bill will enable the establishment of a committee and a special counsel investigation into the accident.

A dispute over when the revised Government Organisation Act should take effect had cast doubt on the passage of the three bills, with the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy demanding that it should be postponed until the 2015 budget review was complete.

However, in last-minute negotiations, the NPAD conceded to the ruling Saenuri Party in allowing the revised act to take effect Nov. 19, after the Cabinet approves its declaration Nov. 18.

The NPAD had argued that the changes should take effect after the budget review to avoid a situation in which various government organisations are restructured while the budgets allocated to them are still being analysed.

However, the controversy surrounding the special Sewol bill continued to the last minute, with Saenuri Party Rep. Ha Tae-keung demanding that the bill be modified.

Citing the penalties for those who do not comply with the orders given by the committee in charge of the issue with regards to testifying, Ha said that the bill may be in violation of the Constitution. Ha also argued that the bill gives the committee, which will be comprised of civilians, more power than law enforcement authorities.

According to the special Sewol bill, reference witnesses who refuse to testify or appear for questioning can be punished by up to 30 million won (S$34,700) a fine of or up to three years in jail.

In comparison, similar offences in criminal court cases are publishable by fines of up to 5 million won.

cheesuk@heraldcorp.com

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