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Politicians, tycoons in feud over testimony

Friction between politicians and the business community is escalating, fueled by the National Assembly’s plans to call Federation of Korean Industries chairman Huh Chang-soo and other top businessmen to its hearings.

At a press conference Tuesday, Huh said that he was opposed to the plans to remove tax benefits for businesses. He criticized policies such as halving university tuition fees as impulsive and politically motivated.

He also said that the business community would not remain silent on populist policies ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. 
Huh Chang-soo
Huh Chang-soo

Saying that simply providing financial support did not give small companies the ability to survive independently, Huh also indirectly criticized the government’s shared-growth policy.

Huh’s comments have raised fierce criticism in the political arena.

“Selfish attitudes that think only of their families and companies is pushing all conservatives towards a crisis,” said Rep. Nam Kyung-pil of the Grand National Party in a statement.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jeong Tae-keun of Grand National Party has suggested that the National Assembly’s Knowledge Economy Committee hold a hearing calling Huh and the head the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Businesses to speak.

Members of the main opposition Democratic Party, who are rarely in agreement with the GNP, have joined the conservatives in criticizing Huh.

“Derogating half-tuition fees and removing tax breaks as impulsive populism is worrying and regrettable,” Rep. Lee Yong-sup of Democratic Party said at a press conference.

In addition to the developments surrounding Huh and his comments, the rift between the country’s political and business leaders was deepened by Environment and Labor Committee’s plans to call Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Co. chairman Cho Nam-ho as a witness to a hearing on the company’s labor-management dispute.

The shipbuilder has been experiencing labor-management friction since December when it announced plans to lay off 400 workers.

The company has been experiencing trouble for some time, and the shipyard in Busan has not been awarded a single contract since the global financial crisis of 2008.

Much as Huh’s comments raised hackles among lawmakers, the committee’s plan to call Cho as a witness has been met with resistance from the business community.

“The politicians’ demand for attending the hearing is part of populism and it could set a precedent that could lead to politicians intervening in the private sector indiscriminately,” the Korea Employers’ Federation said in a statement released Wednesday.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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