|President Park Geun-hye held talks with the Federation of Korean Industries on her corporate policies in December last year, ahead of her inauguration. (Federation of Korean Industries)|
The corporate sector appeared to be wary of the inauguration of the Park Geun-hye government, which has pledged to crack down on irregularities by large companies.
The sector’s apprehension was starkly illustrated in the low attendance for today’s inauguration ceremony.
Lee Kun-hee, chairman of Samsung Electronics and unarguably the most prominent figure in corporate Korea, had said he would be absent from the occasion, as he would be away in Hawaii, where some of his family members reside.
In his place, Samsung Life Chairman Lee Soo-bin will be participating in all important events, including the presidential inauguration ceremony.
Chey Tae-won, the SK chairman, will be physically unable to attend, as he has been convicted of embezzling company funds.
Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-yeon also will not be present, as he is on trial, for embezzlement and negligence.
Right up to the inauguration, the heads of other conglomerates such as Hyundai Motor and LG also failed to confirm their attendance, sources said.
“The attendance itself does seem to be sending a message, although it does appear that everyone has one excuse or another,” said one industry source, declining to be identified.
Most of the top business figures had attended the inauguration of outgoing president Lee Myung-bak in 2008. Lee had proclaimed that he would be a “business-friendly” president, a double-edged pledge that served to appease the corporate sector, while at the same time condemning the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, under which companies claimed to suffer due to the liberal government’s allegedly anti-conglomerate stance.
The Park administration had said from the start that it would be addressing the claims of polarization in the economic sector, as critics and a large part of the public believes conglomerates should be placed under intensified scrutiny.
Large companies had more or less enjoyed favoritism under the Lee government, which emphasized growth, more than anything, as part of Lee’s now-failed “747” pledge.
Under the pledge, Lee had said he would promote 7 percent economic growth, $40,000 per capita income and help turn Korea into the world’s seventh largest economy.
The role of the conglomerates ― still accounting for a large part of the nation’s economic growth ― was consequently highlighted.
The Park administration, despite the conservative platform it hails from, had promised to differ.
The pledge for economic democratization was its proof.
The heads, particularly the founding families, of conglomerates will be unlikely to avoid legal penalties, not to mention social condemnation, should they engage in any kind of irregularity.
Chey of SK was one example. As widely expected, Chey was found guilty of embezzlement and bail appears unlikely.
Many in the corporate sector are now bracing for the next target, which could be Chung Yong-jin of Shinsegae Group.
Local business organizations are now pleading with the government to not stifle the morale of the corporate sector.
“Our economy is suffering from a series of shortcomings and quagmires, including a lack of investment and new growth engines,” said Lee Dong-geun, vice chairman of the Korea Chamber of Industry of Commerce. “The new government must be able to rejuvenate the economy and pursue both growth and welfare in a harmonious manner.”
The chamber has now issued a package of requests for the new government. Called the “PLEASE” policies, “P” stands for polarization-resolving, while “L” stands for, “Looking for new growth engines,” “E” for “Expanding investment incentives,” “A” for “Alleviating regulations, “S” for “Service industry innovation,” and “E” for “Energy price stabilization.”
Organizations have been raising concerns about the economy, as neither the global nor local economy have yet to show signs of a proper recovery.
Lee Seung-chul, the newly appointed chairman of the Federation of Korean Industries, called for more communication with the new Park government, saying that “more dialogue with the government would help create effective policies to prop up the economy.”
This was because, he added, business people have a sixth sense for business opportunities, which could help produce some tangible results as long as the government was willing to talk and discuss matters with the corporate sector.
By Kim Ji-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org