The Korea Herald


Lee aide urges public funds to keep chaebol in check

By 김지현

Published : April 26, 2011 - 19:46

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A presidential aide Tuesday urged the national pension and other public funds to avidly exercise their shareholder rights in order to keep larger companies in check.

“Public funds exercising their shareholder rights (in large companies) are the most effective way to keep the large companies and their power in check,” said Kwak Seung-jun, head of the Presidential Council for Future and Vision at a policy forum.

He noted that there was a lack of efforts from shareholders to keep the companies on their toes, pointing out that the national pension fund was the second-largest shareholder in Samsung Electronics, a global IT heavyweight run by Chairman Lee Kun-hee and his family.

“Samsung Electronics has been warned for years that the smartphone era would arrive, but it was complacent and failed to move forward from the existing mobile phone market,” Kwak said.

The sense of complacency was caused by a lack of devices for improving corporate competitiveness, and in turn made the companies unprepared for the smartphone shock, according to Kwak.

This was not the first time the government had taken shots at Samsung Electronics, or other conglomerates.

Earlier this year, Chung Un-chan, head of a blue-ribbon committee on mutual growth, had engaged in a verbal spat with Samsung after the firm appeared skeptical of his plans to promote growth in both conglomerates and their smaller partners by urging the larger companies to share their profit.

The government has been increasingly focusing on creating a “fair and just” society during the last years of President Lee Myung-bak’s term.

Kwak’s remarks prompted speculation that the government might be preparing similar policies, but Cheong Wa Dae dismissed them as being “personal views.”

Officials said the government is not considering shaping new policies in the vein Kwak suggested.

The suggestion “is nothing more than a personal opinion and belief of Chairman Kwak as a scholar. It has not been coordinated or considered in advance with the government,” a senior presidential official said.

Top business organizations, including the Federation of Korean Industries, immediately lodged protests, raising concerns about undermining corporate independence.

“The purpose of exercising shareholder rights by public funds with growing influence on the domestic stock market should be to maximize the value and profit of the firms in their investment portfolio, not to reform management of the firms,” the nation’s industry lobby, said in a statement.

Korea’s national pension fund amounted to 324 trillion won ($299 billion) at the end of last year and is projected to swell to 2,500 trillion won in 2043, according to government projections.

It had more than 5 percent stakes in 139 big companies by investing 17 percent, or 55 trillion won, in the stock market at last year’s end, according to the presidential council.

By Kim Ji-hyun (