Discord over rest area food prices prompts Korea Expressway Corp. CEO to resign

By Lee Kyung-min

Korea Expressway Corp. (KEX) CEO Kim Jin-sook resigned Friday, apparently due to intensifying scrutiny brought on by discord with the land ministry over lowering food prices at expressway rest stops. Her three-year term began in April 2020 under the previous Moon Jae-in administration.

Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Won Hee-ryong called for a comprehensive audit of the state-run land ministry-affiliated organization, a move he said was necessary to remove “forces that oppose innovation.”

The measure followed a month-long conflict over the KEX’s rejection of the ministry’s suggestion to lower food prices at 207 expressway rest areas by 10 percent, mostly by reducing the commission fee of 41 percent paid to the KEX and operators of rest areas by vendors.

The ministry pushed for the plan to help many rest area users struggling with surging prices of goods and services, an idea the KEX said would result in poor performance evaluations in the finance ministry’s annual review and a sharp reduction in employee benefits and bonuses.

“KEX is opposed to innovation,” Won said on his facebook post, Wednesday.

“The idea of reducing food prices at highway rest areas was to help the people with soaring living expenses. Our investigation showed some unsubstantiated media reports were engineered by KEX officials, leaving me with no choice but to order a vigorous audit of top KEX officials.”

The comments were apparently made in reference to some local media outlets that reported that KEX will suffer a rapid deterioration in financial soundness due to debt surpassing 33 trillion won ($23 billion), compounded by highway tolls remaining free for eight years. Reducing the food prices, the KEX added, would incur losses of between 30 billion won and 40 billion won.

The ministry is expected to proceed with the selection of Kim’s successor soon.

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