[EDITORIALS]Watchdog needs taming

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[EDITORIALS]Watchdog needs taming

Is the Fair Trade Commission playing its role as an economic prosecutor as fairly and transparently as its name reads? There are some doubts, looking at the arguments over the penalties that the anti-trust agency has imposed on companies it oversees.
According to the National Policy Committee of the Assembly, 56 percent of the administrative suits filed last year by companies that disagreed with the penalties imposed by the Fair Trade Commission were decided against the antitrust agency. Over half of the time, the courts sided with the companies.
The Fair Trade Commission insists that last year’s results were exceptional. But four out of every 10 companies on whom penalties were imposed went to court, and half of them won. That suggests that there are some problems in the way the commission does business. And the percentage of successful appeals against commission sanctions has been rising in recent years.
The commission was probably off the mark when it blamed a lack of sufficient legal manpower for its court losses and said it planned to increase the number of attorneys working there from 40 at present to more than 100. That suggestion that overworked attorneys lost good cases should have been preceded by some thought as to whether the penalties it decided to impose in many cases were excessive.
If a company draws the attention of the Fair Trade Commission, it falls into utter confusion. A lot of labor and time is needed for preparing reports and explanations for the antitrust agency. At some companies, business came to a complete halt.
Even after paying such costs to defend itself, if a penalty is imposed, the company protests and files an administrative legal case. Even though they might win at the Supreme Court, the company suffers a blow to its management and faces losses of labor and materials. And who would compensate for the damage to the company’s image? The status and role of the antitrust watchdog have rapidly increased because of deregulation and liberalization of Korea’s economic rules. For many companies, the commission is now the most-feared “lord.”
The commission should reconsider how it does business. It has to have consistent, fair and transparent process and make reasonable decisions that companies can accept. If they do so, companies will accept the Fair Trade Commission’s decisions without strong protests.
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