The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Business lobby’s fate


Published : Aug. 22, 2011 - 18:59

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On Aug. 16, the Federation of Korean Industries, the lobby for big enterprises, turned 50 ― the age at which it, were it a person, should “know the will of heaven.” In Confucian philosophy, those aged 50 are thought to be old enough to understand their destiny as mandated by heaven.

But the FKI is nowhere near gaining such wisdom. On the contrary, it appears to be blindfolded. It is groping about, not knowing where it should be headed or what it should do.

When its 50th birthday was coming around, the FKI was in no mood to celebrate. It may have wondered why it was turned into fair game for politicians, as witnessed one day ahead of its birthday and again the day after.

In his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech, President Lee Myung-bak did not pinpoint FKI members as his target for criticism when he called for an improvement to what he perceived to be a callous market economy. But there was no mistaking in understanding whom he was pointing his finger at.

He said, “What is now being demanded is a new model of the market economy that evolves from greedy management to ethical management; from the freedom of capital to the responsibility of capital; and from the vicious circle of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer to mutual prosperity.”

As if not to leave any room for making himself misunderstood, he said large corporations have to “create an environment in which they will be respected by the public.” He added they should assume a greater corporate social responsibility to make life more livable in the nation.

But the presidential rebuke was mild when compared with what lawmakers did to the FKI at the National Assembly on Aug. 17. At a hearing on the nation’s business organizations, many of the participating lawmakers treated the FKI as if it were a criminal ring when they used such terms as “runaway greed,” “wild beast” and “evil” in their denunciation of it. Some went so far as to demand that it dissolve itself.

Yet, it was not clear that they meant what they said. Did they pretend to be harsh in their attack in an attempt to show a suspecting electorate back home that they had never been influenced by the lobby? The hearing followed an earlier revelation that leading members of the National Assembly were targets of lobbying by FKI member corporations.

On Aug. 5, a business daily disclosed what it said was an FKI document, calling on Samsung, Hyundai Motor, LG, SK, Lotte, GS and other business groups to lobby party leaders, floor leaders, committee chairmen and other powerful lawmakers against their anti-chaebol legislation attempts. The document also proposed that the FKI members make donations to specific politicians, support their constituency work and, by doing so, persuade them not to sponsor any bill aimed at chaebol restructuring.

What lawmakers would not wish to clear themselves of suspicions, which the document planted among the electorate, that they were held hostage by big businesses? No wonder none of them could afford to remain as civil as President Lee in criticizing the FKI and its members, and all the more so when the next parliamentary elections are not far away.

Despite all sorts of criticism hurled against the FKI, there is no denying that it contributed to making Korea what it is today ― the 13th largest economy ― from the ashes of the 1950-53 Korean War. At its recommendation, for instance, the government constructed industrial complexes for the manufacture of export items and encouraged the creation of general trading companies in the 1960s. Later, the FKI cooperated with the government in the promotion of heavy industries.

But it is not lawmakers alone that believe that the FKI has outlived its role as the lobby for big businesses, each of which has become strong enough to stand on its own. This belief is gaining wider endorsement from the general public as well. It needs to ponder what destiny heaven intends for it, including a proposal to transform itself into a think tank patterned after the pro-business Heritage Foundation of the United States.