As only the second female ever to occupy Taiwan's top transportation post, Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪), formerly Chairwoman of the Public Construction Commission, was handed several hot potatoes immediately upon her appointment as the new Transportation and Communications Minister.
The "hot potato" projects are the Hsuehshan Tunnel, the Taiwan High Speed Railway, and the electronic toll-collection system on freeways - all of which were left unfinished by outgoing Transportation chief Lin Ling-san (林陵三). These three projects are now seen as Kuo's priority tasks if she expects to restore public confidence in the country's transportation system.
"Let our achievements do the talking for us," Kuo told her colleagues on her first day of work as MOTC chief on Wednesday. "The replacement of the ministry head is like a relay race. We endeavor to sprint without dropping the baton so that the entire administration does not have to disturbed."
Kuo remarked that although transportation was a massive and complicated task, it was also most closely related to the everyday lives of the people and the economy, and that the people's reactions would be the best feedback for further improvement in the ministry.
Kuo noted that the foremost priority for the administration at present would be to effectively ease the annual traffic jam on freeways each Lunar New Year. She held a briefing of the MOTC's freeway traffic relief plan during the Lunar New Year holidays on Wednesday, so the public could see that she was whipping the ministry into shape straight away.
"The MOTC's motto for this year will be: professional, safety first, and goal-oriented," Kuo said, a likely expression from somebody who holds an engineering background.
With numerous field experiences on her resume: the CEO of the 921 Earthquake Restoration Commission and the Taipei City Government Public Housing Department Director, Kuo comes on strong as a practical leader who has been said to bring about NT$100 billion's worth of "build-operate-and-transfer" projects per year.
"The major dilemma regarding the Hsuehshan Tunnel is no longer in the technical stage, but how to convince the public that it is a safe tunnel," said Kuo in a recent interview with local media, following the confirmation of her succession as the new Transportation Minister.
"As the former minister (Lin) has said, there is no set schedule to open the tunnel," Kuo said, "all precautions will be taken so that the condition of the tunnel will suit the official standard safety level before (we) give it the green light."
Last Sunday, both Kuo and Lin attended the initiation of the Peiyi Freeway, the 55-kilometer link of the Taipei and Yilan Counties now open to compact cars save the 12.9 kilometer-long tunnel.
Local media reported a lukewarm interaction between the outgoing and incoming ministers, but Kuo's turnout at the ceremony even before her inauguration explicitly showed her determination to overturn the disaster-ridden reputation of the ministry.
Since the appointment of Kuo as the 921 Earthquake Restoration Commission in August 2002, others have often perceived her as a loyal footsoldier of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), since she received her first top appointment as the director of the Taipei City Government Public Housing Department when Chen was Taipei City Mayor in 1996.
According to MOTC officials, Kuo will meet with related officials from the THSRC after the Lunar New Year holidays. Kuo herself pointed out in a local media interview that she would see to it that the highly anticipated high-speed railway that will link Taipei to Kaohsiung within 90 minutes operates despite possible delays due to alleged funding problems.
Officials at the PCC believed that having been trained as a basic level civil servant (Kuo was a civil servant for the provincial government in 1980) Kuo would have no problem getting herself on track the first day at the MOTC.
Though Kuo's practical attitude often gave those who worked for her a lot of pressure, it's also easy to work for her because she never hesitates to cut her colleagues some slack when the going gets tough.