Reshuffle starts at public firms

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Reshuffle starts at public firms

Kim Keun-ho, president of the Korea Water Resources Corporation, tendered his resignation to avoid friction with the Park Geun-hye administration, signaling the beginning of a possible massive reshuffle in the leadership of public institutions.

Kim, a 67-year-old technocrat, submitted his resignation to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on March 12, shortly after the new minister, Suh Seoung-hwan, took office. Kim was appointed by President Lee Myung-bak to head the Korea Water Resources Corporation in July 2008 and was reinstated twice in 2011 and 2012.

His tenure ends July 27, but Kim decided to leave four months early.

Nicknamed the “four rivers evangelist,” Kim led Lee’s signature project to restore major rivers around the country. He served as the vice minister of land and transportation during the Kim Young-sam administration in 1998 and became acquainted with Lee, then CEO of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, at the time.

Kim’s resignation came as the four-rivers restoration project was being investigated by the Prime Minister’s Office following an audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection.

“Kim said he didn’t want to be a burden to the new government and tendered his resignation,” a corporation official said. “Corporation workers tried to dissuade him by saying he should resign after winning a water management project in Thailand, but Kim was adamant.”

The outcome of the Thailand project is expected to be announced in May.

A reshuffle at the top of public institutions was foreshadowed from earlier this month. During the first cabinet meeting on March 11, Park gave notice that the heads of public institutions appointed by her predecessor will be replaced en masse.

“For the new government to succeed in important tasks, personnel appointments are important,” Park said at the time. “There will be many appointments in public institutions and agencies under the ministries in the future. You should look to appoint people who share the governing philosophy of the new administration.”

At the cabinet meeting, Park also ordered a probe into alleged budget waste in the four-rivers restoration project, which the Lee government spent 22.2 trillion won ($20.2 billion) on over the past four years.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry said yesterday it has yet to accept Kim’s resignation. Speculation grew yesterday about the fates of other officials appointed by Park’s predecessor to lead state-run companies.

Lee Ji-song’s tenure as president of the Korea Land and Housing Corporation ends at the end of September, and Sung Si-chul ends his term as head of the Korea Airports Corporation in August.

CEOs of Korail, Korea Expressway Corporation, Korea Transportation Safety Authority, Korea Cadastral Survey Corporation and Korea Rail Network Authority were also appointed during the last administration, and their tenures have months left, if not years.

“Kim’s resignation should be seen as tied to President Park’s remarks about the importance of sharing her governance philosophy,” a Blue House official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The trend will expand to other areas.”

Senior presidential secretaries and ministers are analyzing the current status of the public institutions heads, the source said.

Ahead of the forthcoming reshuffle, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance began yesterday performance evaluations of state-run enterprises and public institutions. According to the ministry, 111 public corporations and institutions and 100 heads who served in the posts for more than six months, and 58 standing comptrollers will have their performances for last year evaluated.

Four companies with autonomous managements including Incheon International Airport Corporation will also be evaluated.



By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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