[EDITORIALS]Privatization now

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[EDITORIALS]Privatization now

Politicians are bustling about to resume operations of the National Assembly starting Tuesday, after watching the strikes that paralyzed the nation's railroads. The severe public suffering during the worst-ever traffic conditions triggered people's awareness of the Assembly's responsibilities, and the lawmakers belatedly began responding. We are worried that the politicians will do nothing more than criticize both the government and the unions instead of coming up with fundamental solutions. The ruling and opposition party leadership are unwilling to be involved in the privatization of public utilities because politicians do not want to irritate the union members and lose votes in the local and presidential elections.

The core issue in the joint strikes at public enterprises has been the privatization of the railroads. The Grand National Party wants to postpone the issue until as late as possible; the Millennium Democratic Party is unwilling to come up with any moves. No politicians want to touch that hot potato.

The legislators' approach to the handling of public corporation privatization is nothing less than neglect of duty. The bills on privatization of the nation's railroads were submitted to the National Assembly in November and December. Another bill on privatization of the city gas corporation was submitted at the end of November. The bills were never discussed in the National Assembly's committees.

The Millennium Democratic Party failed to coordinate its policy with the government, and the ruling party still does not have a policy regarding privatization of public utilities. President Kim Dae-jung made clear that no labor union in the world is above the law and the railroad should be managed privately. In contrast, most of the presidential candidates of the ruling party have not taken a stand on the issue; they all say privatization of the railroads requires further review. The current situation clearly indicates the chaos in policy coordination between the ruling party and the government.

The Grand National Party decided that it is too early to privatize the railroads. That is inconceivable to us. Although the party has the largest voting bloc in the Assembly, it has ignored the privatization bills until recently. Because negotiations between labor unions and employers at public utilities show no progress, the major opposition party decided that the privatization plan should be postponed. That is irresponsible. The opposition party seems to be determined that it should not be involved in sensitive issues in order to conserve votes in the presidential election. If that is the case, how can the Grand Nationals possibly criticize the government for making no progress in the reform of public utilities?

The leadership of the ruling and opposition parties are being lazy deliberately, and that attitude hinders the government's plan to privatize public industries. The current strikes are taking place amid such confusion.

We should not delay reform in the public sector any longer. Privatization of the railroads has been discussed since the Kim Young-sam administration. Politicians, including presidential candidates, should handle this matter seriously. If the government scheme of privatizing public utilities lacks some important measures, the legislators should modify the state plan and pass appropriate legislation. Privatization of public utilities is a mission that should not be handed off to the next administration.
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