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South Korea

The Role of Public Enterprise

A government-led economic development policy during the 1960s was necessary because the less experienced and capital-poor private entrepreneurs lacked the wherewithal to develop several critical industries that were necessary to the nation's economic growth. The government determined that establishing public corporations to develop and manage these highly strategic industries was the fastest and most efficient way to foster growth in a variety of key areas.

During the 1960s, public enterprises were concentrated in such areas as electrification, banking, communications, and manufacturing. In 1990 these enterprises were, in many cases, efficient revenue-producing concerns that produced essential goods and services at low costs, but which also produced profits that were used for new capital investments or to produce funds for public use elsewhere. In the 1980s, Seoul was slowly privatizing a number of these firms by selling stocks, but the government remained the principal stockholder in each company. In the 1980s, an important function of public enterprises was the introduction of new and expensive technology ventures.

In 1985 the public enterprise sector consisted of about 90 enterprises employing 305,000 workers, or 2.7 percent of total employment in the nonagricultural sector. There were four categories of public enterprises: government enterprises (staffed and run by government officials), government-invested enterprises (with at least 50 percent government ownership), subsidiaries of government-invested enterprises (usually having indirect government funding), and other government-backed enterprises. Government-invested public enterprises, such as the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) and the Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), represented the core of the new enterprises established during Park's regime. In the late 1980s, roughly 30 percent of the revenues produced by public enterprises came from the manufacturing sector and the other 70 percent from such service sectors as the electrical, communications, and financial industries.

Data as of June 1990