[REPORTER’S DIARY]Rocking the bureaucrats’ worldOn 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.”
by Koh Hyun-kohn
The writer is an economic staff reporter .2of the JoongAng Ilbo.