Park vows public sector reform drive won't falter

SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye said Monday her drive to reform public firms and institutions will not fizzle out, urging debt-ridden organizations to voluntarily reform themselves, rather than being forced to do so.

Park made the remarks during a workshop of 230 ministers, chiefs of state firms and other public institutions, and private company heads, saying that public organizations are no exception in her pledge to correct deep-rooted irregularities blamed for contributing to the sinking of the ferry Sewol.

"Under this government, there will never be such a thing as (the reform drive) fizzling out as time goes by as seen in the past," Park said at the start of the workshop. "Everybody should keep in mind that we will keep pushing for reform with a strong will."

Public firms and organizations have been under fire for lax and wasteful management, such as in doling out what many see as excessive bonuses, benefits and perks to employees, despite fast-growing debts.

Park made reform of the public sector a key priority for this year, pledging in her New Year's address that she would work hard to end deep-rooted "abnormal practices" to spur economic growth.

Her commitment to public sector reform strengthened in the wake of the ferry disaster as a string of irregularities and corrupt practices have been blamed for contributing to the sinking that claimed the lives of hundreds of people, mostly high school students.

On Monday, Park stressed that most public institutions face serious debt problems. Their combined debts stood at 523 trillion won (US$510 billion) as of the end of 2013, which is greater than the national debt. Some organizations are even unable to make interest payments with their operating profits, she said.

The workshop had originally been scheduled for last month, but was put off due to the ferry accident.

Each government body will be subject to a performance review of their reform efforts in September, Finance Minister Hyun Oh-seok said during the workshop, adding that bodies will be rewarded or punished in accordance with their performance.

The finance minister forecast that the financial health of most government organs could be restored by 2017 if on-going debt reduction and financial normalization plans are successfully implemented.

Hyun also vowed to increase the budgets and the workforce at various government institutions to boost safety management in the wake of last month's ferry accident.

"The Sewol case taught us that abnormal (government) practices often lead to socially unmanageable disasters. Therefore the painful goal of normalizing government institutions should be speedily achieved," the finance minister said.

A lack of competition among government bodies, high labor costs stemming from ineffective personnel use and poor ethics among civil servants have led previous government reform plans to fail, Lee Byoung-hye, a professor at Myongji University, said in the workshop, urging the government to come up with relevant measures.

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