[NOTEBOOK]Roh extends hand to businessWhile abroad recently, President Roh Moo-hyun made a series of favorable remarks to business circles.
During his visit to Russia last month, he made well-wishing remarks to a suite of business chiefs. “Among many tasks, people’s livelihood is the foremost and the economy is run by businesses, after all,” he said, adding, “Businesses are the country.”
In his state visit to India on Oct. 4, the moment he got off the plane, he visited a local LG Electronics plant. During his meeting with local Korean business people, he mentioned, “The government is thinking about how it can help businesses.”
Some time ago, Mr. Roh appeared at a presentation on public sector reform with a book. The book included cases of corporate managerial innovation. He asked, “Have you read this book?” and recommended it to participants. He also sent 10 presidential aides to GE’s Crotonville training center so that they could experience advanced management culture. He is already heeding the voices of businesses by dispatching high-ranking economic officials to the Federation of Korean Industries, the headquarters of the big business community.
Some interpret his moves as an effort to avoid becoming an enemy of business; others consider it an attitude to understand the position of businesses, which are desperately competing in the world’s economic jungles.
But the business circle is not yet in a position to accept Mr. Roh’s remarks at face value. It cannot help holding its breath in the face of his administration’s stubborn drive for reform, regardless of public opinion.
This is why Samsung Electronics, a world-class business, has difficulty protecting its managerial rights. If the revision to the Fair Trade Act proposed by the government takes effect, Samsung’s voting rights will be limited to 15 percent and the company will be exposed to the hostile takeover attempts of large foreign shareholders. Although the company, with almost 50 trillion won ($ 43.6 billion) in sales and trillions of annual net profit is in a “management security emergency,” the Fair Trade Commission’s stance remains unchanged.
Hanhwa Group Chairman Kim Seung-yeon was sentenced to imprisonment for providing illegal political funds in the last presidential election. Unless his sentence is lightened, he should give up the chief executive officer position of Daehan Life Insurance, which contributes to half of Hanwha’s sales. Heads of other major groups are also shackled due to illegal funds. Internally, businesses tremble before the sword of reform. Externally, they keep a wary eye on the activities of foreign investors.
The Capital Group, a U.S. investment management company and a leading shareholder in the domestic stock market, invited Korea’s large group managers to its investment strategy conference, held recently in Seoul. The chairman of a large business group gave a briefing in person. SK has suffered from the attack of a foreign fund management company called “Sovereign Asset Management.” There is no guarantee that SK Chairman Choi Tae-won will maintain his headship at the next general shareholders meeting. Mr. Choi shuddered, saying, “Sovereign is colder than the Kremlin.”
Now, with national opinion divided, is the time for the president, hand-in-hand with business people, to come forward to save the economy. If he does, businesses will recover their vitality. If the president carries out at home what he said abroad, the tangled economy can be solved more easily than we think. The clue should be found in the trust the government gives to firms. But businesses don’t seem to trust the government yet.
The government should ruminate over why businesses remain cautious while, also paying attention to Mr. Roh’s “business-friendly remarks” abroad.
* The writer is a deputy industrial news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Koh Yun-hee