Few would question the “one-share, one-vote” rule as the basic principle behind corporate governance. Nothing would be wrong if the National Pension Service exercises its voting rights, mandated by the number of common shares it possesses, at a listed company’s meeting of shareholders.
The National Pension Service is one of the largest institutional investors, which holds more than 5 percent of stock in the 139 publicly traded companies in Korea. As Kwak Seung-jun, chairman of the Presidential Council for Future and Vision, noted, the NPS holds more shares of Samsung Electronics’ stock than its powerful chairman, Lee Kun-hee.
Is it necessary for the NPS to actively exercise its voting rights on Samsung and other companies? Kwak, one of President Lee Myung-bak’s proteges, believes so. At a policy debate earlier in the week, he said that the NPS, by omission, failed to prod the Samsung management out of complacency when it was doing business as usual with regard to mobile phones (at a time when Apple was developing iPhones). He also chastised the NPS for failing to put the Samsung management in check and promote its transparency.
But the Federation of Korean Industries, a lobby for large companies, and other business organizations have good reason to cringe. The administration exercises an enormous influence in the selection of chief executive officers for such corporations as POSCO and KT though it possesses none of their shares. The business organizations suspect that the administration is pushing for its own agenda via the NPS, including the pet project of shared prosperity between small and large businesses. They cannot be blamed when they wonder aloud if the administration is pushing for “pension fund socialism.”
The NPS must be provided with mechanisms by which it can shield itself from undue influence from the administration before it starts to engage actively in corporate governance.