[EDITORIALS]Privatize rail system nowThe government submitted a bill to the National Assembly that will merge the Korean National Railroad Administration and the Korea High Speed Rail Authority and privatize the construction, finance and management units. The policy was formulated in 1999 as a key part of public sector reform. The analysis on the policy was completed last year and its master plan was drafted this summer. Why the bill is submitted to the National Assembly now when the last parliamentary session of the year is nearing an end is questionable. The government's explanation that public hearings were canceled twice is not an appropriate one. Granted, how could the Ministry of Construction and Transportation, which saw its minister change seven times since the beginning of this administration, implement any policy properly?
The matter cannot be resolved if politicians dismiss the proposal as being premature. The union also does not contribute to the resolution of the matter when it threatens to go on an all-out strike. Experts are divided over whether all firms in government hands should be privatized but many of them believe privately-owned companies are generally more efficient than state-run corporations. Of the 120 countries with rail systems around the world, just six rail corporations, including those of North and South Korea, China and Russia, are state-run.
The Korean rail system suffers from a chronic deficit and the high-speed rail construction has snowballed the amount of debt. Even by the government estimate, the amount will exceed 28 trillion won ($22 billion) in 20 years. Without dealing with the debt problem, more investment in the rail infrastructure is meaningless.
Concerns that public sector reform effectively came to a halt with President Kim Dae-jung's lame-duck status and the elections next year are intensifying. But there can't be a single timetable for reform, and reforms that are vital should be carried out at any time. Politicians should not turn a blind eye to matters pertaining to public sector reform fearing a voter dissatisfaction before vital elections next year. The privatization of the rail system should be pursued resolutely and should not be postponed.