Park talks with company chiefs

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Park talks with company chiefs

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President Park Geun-hye makes opening remarks in a workshop on normalizing public institutions yesterday in the presence of the heads of public companies at the government complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. Attendees included Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok. [Joint Press Corps]

President Park Geun-hye said yesterday that her principle of “normalizing anomaly” will apply to public companies and institutions, in line with her pledges to tackle bureaucracy, which she also vowed to root out.

“The overhaul of public institutions by past administrations failed in making notable progress - largely due to the government’s inconsistency in proceeding with those plans, as well as public institutions’ lax attitudes toward reform,” Park said in the presence of public company heads in a workshop covering the normalization of state-run institutions at the government complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul.

Attendees included Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok as well as Blue House officials and academics.

“A reform plan ending in smoke will never happen under this administration,” the president continued.

This is the first time Park has personally talked with the heads of the nation’s public institutions since she took office in February 2013. The workshop was originally scheduled on April 17 but was cancelled following the Sewol ferry accident a day before.

The president, noted for her rigid principles, made public sector reform, which she believes will spur economic growth, a key priority in her New Year’s address.

She also pointed to massive debt as one of the primary challenges public companies face. The accumulated debt at public institutions stood at 523 trillion won ($511 billion) at the end of 2013 - more than the national debt - with some companies not even profitable enough to pay off monthly interest rates.

At the same time, the welfare fees spent over the past five years by the 12 most indebted companies surpassed 300 billion won, which Park cited as just one of several examples of “negligent management.”

Excessive employee wages and outrageous benefits are widely considered to have contributed to debt at public institutions. One company was discovered to have been paying more than 10 million won in benefits to each employee.

The president made mention of the corruption scandal last year at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power, in which the company fabricated test results and supplied poor-quality cables to nuclear power plants.

That incident, she noted, led to a nationwide electricity shortage, eventually dealing a blow to the national economy and public livelihood.

Deputy Prime Minister Hyun said in his presentation later that if the reform plans, which include privatization, are carried out properly, the majority of the 41 public companies currently in debt would be able to improve their financial structure by 2017.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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