Same old practices continueMaking a good business environment should not stop at doing away with unnecessary regulations and invigorating business sentiments. Authorities should reassure businesses that they need not fear state power as long as they do not breach trust and laws. Companies cannot focus on business if they have the state breathing down their necks and fret about when the next blow will come from authorities.
The government has become brazen in its demands on large companies. The top 15 corporate names — including Samsung, Hyundai Motor, SK and LG — were rounded up for a meeting devoted to rural-industry co-development after the free trade agreements with other countries. It was more or less an excuse to squeeze out 100 billion won ($88 million) each year from companies from last year to create a fund worth 1 trillion won over 10 years to help the struggling farming and fisheries communities since the liberalization and market opening. So far, the fund has collected 47.5 billion won, which fell short of the planned 150 billion won.
Politicians as well as the agriculture and fisheries ministers attended the meeting for a menacing presence. One opposition lawmaker said that the businesses should not worry about being summoned by the prosecution for the donations they made this time. That is a sad comfort for businesses whose owners had been grilled by the prosecution and sent to prison for coughing out donations to the ousted president Park Geun-hye. His comment underscores that the fate of Korean businesses remains in the hands of the political power.
The benefits of market opening and liberalization mostly go to large exporters and damage the domestic farming and fisheries industry. It is right that the state compensates for their losses. But no governments should squeeze out social funds from the private sector. The government can argue that the fund is legitimate. But nowhere in the co-development fund act stipulates that the burden should be levied onto conglomerates. If the country should help farmers and fishers, the money should come from the government budget instead of forcing it out of large companies.
JoongAng Sunday, Nov. 17-18, Page 34