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A Public Official Who Made a Difference

Posted March. 07, 2009 07:44,   


○ Truck ride to Busan

A director-general at the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry had once been a member of the now-defunct Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry. “Kwak” was charged with overland transportation after the fisheries ministry was merged with the Construction and Transportation Ministry in February last year.

On June 13 last year, before he familiarized himself with his tasks, truck drivers went on strike. Strong calls for “fundamental measures” rang out.

In July, the ruling Grand National Party and the administration formed a task force to draw up measures to improve the trucking industry. Party lawmaker Kim Gi-hyun headed the team, while Kwak represented working-level staff from the administration.

Upon being assigned to the task, Kwak went to a freight terminal in the Yangjae district of southern Seoul, thinking he had to start from the road where the truck ran.

He asked for a ride on a truck headed for the southern port city of Busan. The truck left Seoul at 9 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Busan at 8 a.m. the next morning. While riding, he listened to the truck driver’s complaints about his job, life and the government.

“There is a half-off discount on the highway toll for trucks 10 tons or larger between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next morning. But I found that it was not easy (for truck drivers) to make it on time,” he said. “I learned that many truck drivers could not sleep at night and had to drive recklessly.”

The official tried to expand the discount hours. Because of a budget shortage, he drew up a policy to allow trucks under 10 tons to be eligible for the discount.

He even had cheap food sold at a rest area on a highway exclusively for freight trucks and went to public bathhouses. Because he was on the move, his staff dared not sit at their desks.

One of his staff members who participated in the task force said: “I thought he was not so well aware of the tasks because he was from the former Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry. A month after, he had a better grasp of the situation than we did.”

○ Cross-country road shows

To normalize the freight transportation market, Kwak had to break the multi-level contract structure. To do so, he needed cooperation from truck owners and transportation companies that give out contracts.

He sat at the negotiating table with the Korea Trucking Association and the Korea Freight Forwarding Association. Talks with those who could lose their means of living were not easy, however.

He then talked with member companies of the associations, believing that one-on-one dialogue could work.

He began a cross-country tour in October, visiting Seoul, Gwangju, Busan and Daejeon. He once went to a meeting expecting some 200 people, but around 600 showed. None of them welcomed him.

“I heard harsh words even before I started explaining,” he said. “In many cases, I was cussed at and insulted.”

Kwak never backed down, however, and persuaded those who resisted to make gradual changes. He pledged to seek a revision to the 1998 law on the multi-level contract structure, which allows anyone who registers with the government to start a freight transportation business.