S. Korea considers disclosing more comprehensive public debt figures

SEJONG, July 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday that it is considering providing new statistics on national debt including debt owed by public companies and the central bank in a bid to present a more accurate picture of the country's overall financial status.

The statistics would be the fourth national debt-related figures offered by the government. Last year, the government said that the national debt amounted to 468.6 trillion won (US$411.1 billion) as of 2011 if calculated based on internationally accepted accounting rules.

The figures included debt of central and provincial governments and their non-profit public companies, a move aimed at providing more comprehensive national debt data. However, they did not include debt owed by state-run enterprises at the time.

The government held a public hearing in Seoul on Thursday to discuss whether to include debt of public enterprises. Participants -- policymakers and private sector experts -- proposed adding debt of 206 public companies in calculating the total national debt holdings.

Under the new proposal, the number of public organizations whose debt will be counted will grow to 439. Debt owed by the Bank of Korea, state-owned broadcasters such as KBS and EBS, and the policy bank Korea Development Bank will also be included.

While they have agreed upon whether to expand the overall public-sector category, they might need more time to determine which types of debt should be counted as public debt, experts said.

More talks might be needed to resolve such issues as whether to include the monetary stabilization bonds issued by the Bank of Korea or count deposits held by state-run policy banks as public debts. If they are counted, the overall national debt amount is expected to spike, they noted.

The government said that it plans to finalize methods of counting public debt until September based on opinions gathered from the public hearing and will disclose new public debt figures in March for the fiscal year 2012.

"A slowdown in revenue growth caused by the low economic growth and continued increase in spending on welfare due to the fast-aging population are emerging as new challenges that could threaten (our) fiscal health," Vice Finance Minister Lee Suk-joon said during the hearing.

"The government has been making diverse efforts in order to cope with the new reality in a preemptive manner by actively analyzing such fiscal risk factors," he added. "Producing fiscal statistics on the public sector is part of those efforts."

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