SEOUL, South Korea's national pension fund on Monday adopted a new investment stewardship code in a move to boost transparency of its voting rights in companies where it has a stake, a top government official said.

The fund management committee -- the highest decision-making body of the National Pension Service -- made the decision at a meeting in Seoul.

"We are introducing the stewardship code to strengthen transparency and independence of our voting rights, and to improve the NPS' long-term profits," said Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo, who is in charge of the fund management committee.

The ministry oversees the NPS, the world's third-largest pension fund by assets under management.1

The stewardship code refers to a set of principles or guidelines aimed at making institutional investors be active and engage in corporate governance in the interests of their beneficiaries.

Under the plan, the NPS can exercise its rights in selecting and dismissing board members of invested companies.

The NPS is the country's leading institutional investor and has 636 trillion won (US$570 billion) under its control. As of July 9, it owned 5 percent or more of 296 publicly traded corporations, including a 9.9 percent stake in tech giant Samsung Electronics Co.

The fund also said it will hold closed-door dialogue with a company in case its corporate value is undermined. The fund said it will publicly name companies that are found to have serious situations.

Also Monday, the Korea Employers Federation said it hopes that the stewardship code will contribute to strengthening corporate competitiveness and enhancing shareholders' value.

The federation, which speaks on behalf of South Korea's large businesses, stressed that the pension fund should exercise its voting rights in a fair and transparent manner to ensure that the fund will not get too involved in management of each company or disturb the overall market.

An official of a big South Korean company, in which the state pension fund had a more than five percent stake, said there is consensus that the stewardship code is a step in the right direction, but there is concern that independence of corporate management could be undermined and that government influence in business affairs could become more pronounced.

Source: Yonhap News Agency