The following are excerpts from an interview with Director Dr. Jeffrey I. Kim of the Office of the Foreign Investment Ombudsman.—Ed.
Question: Please introduce the background of establishment of the Office of Foreign Investment Ombudsman.
Answer: The Office of the Foreign Investment Ombudsman (OFIO) was founded on October 26, 1999 in accordance with the Foreign Investment Promotion Act as a “foreign-investor grievance handling organization” to identify, resolve, and assist with various grievances that may arise from foreign investors and foreign-invested companies doing business in Korea.
The Foreign Investment Ombudsman is appointed by the President after the recommdendation of the Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy and deliberation by the Foreign Investment Committee. The Ombudsman concurrently serves as the head of the Foreign Investment Aftercare Division.
The OFIO was founded after the eruption of the Korean financial crisis (1997-1998) and made significant contributions to the economy’s rapid recovery.
Q: What are the performance and achievements?
A: The Ombudsman’s Office operates the 'Home Doctor' System for Grievance Resolution.
Description: The Ombudsman’s Office has provided professional one-stop services for the entire process from grievance collection to resolution.
-We aim to preemptively address various business grievances of foreign-invested companies through 'proactive reaching out' to client companies. This is like 'family doctors' home visits to provide preventive care to patients.
(1) System improvement: Grievances requiring amendments to laws and regulations
(2) Administrative Intervention: Cases resolved by requesting administrative support from an administrative agency or public institution (relevant institutions)
(3) Others: Assistance through consultation with KOTRA’s internal consultants in various fields such as taxation, law, etc.
We frequently conduct Grievance-Resolution Meetings for Foreign-Invested Companies Grouped by Industrial Field.
Description: Frequently conducting Grievance-Resolution Meetings for Foreign Invested Companies grouped by industrial field has helped to address grievances of foreign-invested companies in a practical manner. The small-group meetings have complemented large-scale meetings.
Through close cooperation with the competent authorities, we provide information-sharing opportunities regarding chemical control, taxation, labor, and other key issues that largely affect foreign-invested companies and improve complaint settlement services
Number of meetings with foreign-invested companies: 12 meetings in 2015 → 19 meetings in 2016
We provide the Regulatory Information Portal Service for Foreign investors
Description: The Ombudsman’s Office encourages foreign-invested companies to raise issues regarding regulatory reforms and participate in system improvements through the online portal.
The Regulatory Info. Portal provides opportunities for foreign-invested companies to express their opinions on newly inserted or strengthened regulations during the pre-legislative process. The regulatory portal helps to gather opinions from the foreign investors.
Q: What are the key Business Plans for 2017?
A: Enhance the satisfaction of foreign-invested companies by providing more practical grievance handling services
'Home Doctor' system offers professional one-stop services for the entire process from grievance collection to resolution.
Strengthen the collaborative system among the government, Office of the Ombudsman, and local governments for handling grievances of foreign-invested companies
Enhance the grievance resolution rate through collaboration with the Office for Government Policy Coordination
Improve business and investment environments through a preemptive grievance handling service for foreign-invested companies
(Regulatory information portal) Increase opportunities for foreign-invested companies to raise issues on regulatory reforms and participate in system improvements
◦ (Proactive Outreach Service) Go beyond services where clients must passively wait for a resolution, to a system that strengthens relationships with foreign-invested companies from a “passive call awaiting” to ‘proactive outreaching’. Eliminate any signs of grievance in advance
Assist with shared problems of foreign-invested companies and increase projects to fulfill government policies
Hold job fairs for foreign-invested companies and recruiting seminars and consultations for foreign-invested companies in provincial areas
Q: What are the OFIO’s Plans and Future Outlook?
A: Korea’s Foreign Investment Ombudsman system is the first and only one of its kind in the world. It significantly contributed to the early recovery from the Korean financial crisis in the late 1990s and continues to make substantial contributions to the economy considering the fact that approximately 50% of foreign investments are re-investments.
If Korea’s FTAs with other countries increase and intensify in the future, investor-state dispute (ISD) can also be expected to increase. This suggests that the role of the Ombudsman in ISD prevention will become even more crucial.
As these days the grievances of foreign investors are so complicated, we need assistance from outside specialists. So we have organized a senior advisory group consisting of renowned professors and former gorvernment officials. Yet we are striving to change the wrong perceptions of some Korean journalists toward foreign investment that foreign investors are doing our economy more harm than good.