Is summoning even necessary?Lawmakers have routinely rounded up corporate leaders for their regular September examination of state affairs. Rep. Chung Woon-chun — a lawmaker of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party and a member on the National Assembly’s Agriculture, Food, Rural Affairs, Oceans and Fisheries Committee — for instance, asked chairmen of the country’s top 15 conglomerates to appear at the questioning to answer to their meager donations to a fund aimed at achieving growth in the agriculture and fishery industries.
Calling up business heads because their donations have been poor is typical overbearing behavior from Korean lawmakers. Korean politicians are notorious for bullying businessmen. The committee settled for summoning five CEOs of large companies, but even that raises questions about whether it is appropriate or not.
Other committees are no different. The committee on Science, ITC and Broadcasting and Communications called up executives from the three wireless carriers — SK Telecom, KT and LG U+. CEOs of internet platform operators Naver and Kakao are also set to appear. The Environment and Labor Committee called managers of LG Chem, Hanwha Chemical, Lotte Chemical, Kumho Petrochemical and GS Caltex into questioning regarding their failure to comply with environment regulations for the Yeosu complex. The National Assembly’s audit of the Ministry of Employment and Labor requires attendance from the president of SK C&C.
Legislative questioning of businessmen has long been scorned as having political motives. Lawmakers often bargain to drop certain businessmen from a list if a certain business does them a favor. Businessmen often have to sit idly and waste a whole day listening to rivaling parties argue. If a response from a business is that important, a chair or CEO does not necessarily have to be in attendance. Rep. Lee Won-wook, a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), even asked for cooperation from the other parties to refrain from disturbing business through unnecessary summoning to the legislative questioning. He reminded them that Korea Inc. already has too many headaches, including the remarkable drop of the combined operating profit of the top 10 business groups in the first half of the year.
According to a survey by the JoongAng Ilbo and Korea Economic Research Institute, more than 100 corporate leaders have been called to legislative hearings since 2012.
The legislature must question businesses that have caused social controversies. But business should not be interrupted every fall during the parliamentary questioning period. If politicians are lining up businessmen for publicity ahead of the general election next year, they are doing serious harm to the economy.
The purpose of these legislative hearings is to examine state management and affairs, not to overstretch its role into business meddling and supervision.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 23, Page 30