중앙데일리

Rocking the bureaucrats’ world

May 20,2003


On Thursday morning, when striking independent truckers took the latest government compromise offer and agreed to return to work, a Finance Ministry official was asked whether the new government had a labor policy at all.

Instead of the expected long, bureaucratic answer, the reply was brisk and to the point.

Quoting an English word popularized here to describe people who share a common philosophy, he said, “People keeping talking about ‘code’ all the time, but I honestly don’t know what that really means.”

He continued, “I just want to quit and leave rather than worrying about the code and whether I share it with the higher-ups.”

This came as a surprise. It came from a member of the elite corps of bureaucrats running the government out of the Gwacheon complex, south of Seoul.

They are not known for complaining, and they were the ones who refused to admit responsibility during the financial crisis of 1997-98, but instead argued for the justification of applying for emergency relief from the International Monetary Fund.

None of that spirit was to be found at the Gwacheon complex Thursday.

“The government stuck to its principles even during the 37-day strike by power-generation workers last year,” another official said. “This time, the government switched position in less than a day; the government really does not have an excuse this time.”

“It was all decided higher up; stop bothering us,” said another. “We are just as upset about this.”

Some even asked for a strong criticism of the government by the media so that there would be no recurrence.

The minister of construction and transportation, Choi Jong-chan, said Thursday that he wanted to take responsibility for the truckers’ strike and resign.

An official who has worked with him for more than a decade had this to say: “He is a man who often talked about how we need to set education and labor right if we were to have any hope for the future. I’m really curious to know how he is taking this.”

On Friday, as the government scrambled to explain the unexpectedly quick settlement of the truck drivers’ strike, the bureaucrats in Gwacheon had their heads hung in self-doubt.

All the while, on the athletic field right outside the gate to the Gwacheon government complex, protest demonstrations of one kind or another went on.

There was also a banner sign in sight that had never been noticed before. It read: “Please have consideration for the residents and students who are living with disruption from the noise every day ― Residents and Students of Gwacheon, April 2003.”

The writer is an economic staff reporter .2of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Koh Hyun-kohn

"나도 사표 쓰고 싶다"

화물연대 운송 거부 사태가 타결된 15일 오전. 과천의 정부 부처 한 관료에게 "새 정부의 노동정책은 원칙이 있는 것이냐"고 물었다.

장황한 대답을 예상했지만 뜻밖에 짧았다. 그는 "코드, 코드 얘기하는데 솔직히 잘 모르겠다. 그 것에 맞추려고 눈치 보고, 애쓰느니 차라리 사표를 내고 싶다"고 말했다.

의외였다. 과천 정부 부처의 엘리트 관료들이 어떤 사람들인가. 평소 좀처럼 불만을 드러내지 않을 뿐만 아니라 외환위기 때에는 잘못을 인정하기보다 국제통화기금(IMF)에 구제금융을 신청하는 것을 합리화하는 속성도 보인 집단이다.

이런 자조적인 분위기는 이날 과천 청사 곳곳에서 느낄 수 있었다.

"지난해 봄 발전 노조의 37일간 장기 파업 때도 정부는 끝까지 원칙을 지켰다. 그런데 이번에는 반나절 만에 입장을 바꿨으니 정말 할말 없게 됐다."(산업자원부 과장)

"위에서 그렇게 결정했는데 실무자에게 자꾸 묻지 마라. 우리도 힘들다. "(건설교통부 직원)

"다시는 이런 일이 없도록 언론이 정부를 강하게 비판해야 한다"는 이야기도 들린다.

최종찬 건교부 장관의 사의 표명에 대해 그와 10여년을 함께 근무한 기획예산처의 한 관료는 이렇게 말했다.

"崔장관은 예전부터 교육과 노동을 바로 세우지 않으면 희망이 없다는 말을 자주했다. 그런 그가 이번 일을 어떻게 받아들일지…."

관료들이 자괴감에 빠져 있는 16일에도 과천 청사 앞 운동장에선 시위가 이어졌고, 그곳에 새로 생긴 게시판이 눈에 들어왔다.

'연일 이어지는 소음으로 불편해 하는 주민과 학생도 배려해주시면 감사하겠습니다. 2003년 4월 과천 주민.학생 일동'.


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