South Korea\'s statistics agency has fined companies for not responding to its surveys in a move to encourage public participation in government efforts to collect key policy-related data, agency officials said Monday. Statistics Korea fined four manufacturers a combined 400,000-500,000 won (US$460) each late last year for not responding to its surveys on the mining and manufacturing industries, according to the officials. The penalties were the first of their kind. They also came amid the falling response rates among companies and individuals to surveys conducted by Statistics Korea. Under the current laws, Statistics Korea can impose penalties on those who reject to submit data or answer questions related to such major government surveys as the national census. There are 94 different types of surveys where fines can be imposed on those rejecting to respond. The statistics agency has refrained from strictly enforcing the laws for fear that it could eventually discourage people and companies from voluntarily participating in government surveys. The recent move to impose penalties, however, reflects the growing trend of falling participation rates for such government surveys. In a survey to collect data on household finances, for example, the rate of not answering rose to 20 percent last year from 17 percent in 2007. The statistics agency said that it will be cautious in imposing such fines but is still ready to enforce the law, \"if necessary,\" to increase the overall public participation. \"We will continue to try to draw cooperation through persuasion but, if it is necessary to enhance the response rates, we will consider imposing fines,\" a statistics agency official said.