Key vacancies paralyzing state-run companies

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Key vacancies paralyzing state-run companies

Major state-run public utility companies - including those in charge of nuclear power generation, the railways and highway services, and the stock exchanges - have been without bosses for months, leaving them floundering to make decisions on key issues.

The heads of a dozen state-run companies retired either after completing their terms, or voluntarily, in recent months, and no appointments have since made by the Park Geun-hye Blue House. As the delays continue, the companies are operating without leaders, leaving concerns about their ability to operate.

After its head Kim Bong-su retired in May, the Korea Exchange, the sole stock market operator in Korea, remains without a boss. While 11 people have applied for the job, the selection process has been idle for months.

In the meantime, the company experienced two major computer system glitches last month, paralyzing trading operations for two days in a row.

Even more serious concerns stem from the delayed appointment of a new head of the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company, as the possibility of blackouts grows with the soaring summer temperatures. The firm has failed to make decisions on several urgent projects.

After its head stepped down in June to take responsibility for widespread corruption in the nuclear plant industry supply chain, the company began seeking a new chief. Fifteen people applied for the job, but the selection process was stopped in the middle and there are no current plans to resume it.

With no top official to assume responsibility, the company has been unable to make a decision on when or whether to resume operations of the three nuclear reactors that were halted following revelations that test results of some components had been forged.

No work has yet been done on the 10 billion won ($9 million) project that is required to replace the parts. Without a CEO, the utility firm can’t sign contracts or start new projects.

The situation is similar at other utility firms. The CEO post at the Korea District Heating Corporation has remained vacant since May, as has the one at the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements.

Chang Seok-hyo, the president of the Korea Expressway Corporation, recently expressed his intention to resign, but the company has yet to begin taking applications. The company is in dire need of direction as it faces its busiest period of the year, with the aftermath of the summer monsoons and the approaching Chuseok thanksgiving holiday, when the nation’s roads get flooded by millions of people returning to their hometowns.

The Korea Water Resources Corporation is currently being run by its vice president, after its head retired on July 29. “It is possible for us just to operate under the acting president because the major project in Thailand is currently in its final stage,” a company official said. “We are just waiting to see who will become our next president.”

Lee Chang-won, a public administration professor from Hansung University, said President Park needs to avoid political appointments for the jobs and instead emphasize the rule of law. “If politics intervene, the principle will be damaged,” he said.

Such concerns have already surfaced, when the Korea Exchange tried to find its new president. At the time, the speculation was that a Park loyalist had already been picked for the post, even before the selection process began. Including former senior officials, 11 applicants submitted applications, but the hiring process was abruptly stopped midway through.

“The Blue House and the Financial Supervisory Commission aren’t saying anything about whether the process will resume or a whole new process will begin,” said a Korea Exchange official. “We are growing frustrated about the situation.”

The Korea Rural Community Corporation began the process of finding a new boss after Park Jae-soon abruptly resigned on July 22. Several former lawmakers have expressed interest in the position.

Korail has also begun looking for a new president and 22 people have already applied for the job. As the company has been operating without its president for two months, it has failed to respond properly to sensitive issues such as the court battle surrounding a massive botched development project in Yongsan, central Seoul.

“Until we have a new president, no decisions, except for extremely urgent ones, are to be made,” a Korail official said. “To stop any confusion, all promotions and reshuffles have also been stopped.”

Despite the months of vacancies at the top of the nation’s public utility companies, the Blue House seems in no hurry to fill the slots.

“Now that the president is back from her summer vacation, the appointments will be made one after another,” a senior Blue House official said Tuesday. No announcement, however, had been made as of yesterday.

While Blue House officials said the appointments will soon be made, speculation of a further delay is on the rise because members of the Blue House’s personnel affairs committee were switched in the recent reshuffle.

The committee is headed up by the chief of staff and senior secretaries for state affairs planning. Political, civil and public relations secretaries are standing members. Depending on the post at hand, further senior secretaries specifically related to the job will also join the group. In Monday’s reshuffle, three out of five standing members of the committee, including the presidential chief of staff, were changed.



BY KIM DONG-HO, SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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