Assembly wants to grill chaebol execs this year

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Assembly wants to grill chaebol execs this year

Every year, the National Assembly holds a parliamentary public hearing to monitor governmental and judicial affairs. It’s allowed to summon anyone, including government officials.

This year’s hearing, scheduled to take place for 20 days from Oct. 14, will differ from in the past. The standing committees who decide whom to call want to hear from many people in the private sector.

The State Affairs Committee, for instance, voted last Friday on a plan to summon 277 government officials and 63 people from outside the government. It’s notable that 59 of the 63, or 94 percent, are businessmen - chaebol leaders, to be more specific.

They include the imperiled Tongyang Group’s Chairman Hyun Jae-hyun and its CEO Chung Jin-seok; J.K. Shin, head of Samsung Electronics Mobile Communications; and Kim Gyeong-bae, CEO of Hyundai Glovis.Others on the list include Son Young-chul, president of AmorePacific Group, and Choi Joo-sik, senior vice president of LG U+.

What inspired lawmakers to focus so much on corporations instead of government officials? A major factor is the administration’s drive to crack down on conglomerates’ abuse of their power when it comes to their suppliers, contractors and smaller competitors.

The number of non-government figures picked for the hearing by the six key standing committees at the National Assembly rose from 61 in 2011 to 145 last year. The figure will grow larger this year once all the committees’ lists are combined.

“We had conglomerate heirs attend the hearing and that turned out to be very successful, eventually rectifying a number of their illegal activities,” said Representative Kim Young-joo, assistant administrator of the opposition Democratic Party’s State Affairs Standing Committee. “It is important to keep the administration in check, but it is even more effective to work on problems with corporations evading the law.”

How effective the summonings are is debatable. Twelve of 26 non-government officials who attended the hearing led by the State Affairs Standing Committee last year did not even get a chance to be questioned, largely due to time constraints. A similar situation occurred with other committees.

The summons to the hearing can prove costly. After Cho Nam-ho, chairman of Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction, was grilled in 2011 over layoffs, business partners canceled business agreements. Hanjin’s business deals stalled until April 2013.

“Lawmakers summoning conglomerate leaders just to show off to the public that they can reprimand those businessmen means Korean politics are still immature,” says Lee Jung-hee, a professor of politics at the Hankook University of Foreign Studies.

BY KANG TAE-HWA, SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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