North Korea Today No.186

No.186 August 2008
Taechun County in Heavy Debt Due To Excessive New Home Construction
Nampo Port is a Battlefield without the Sound of Gunfire
Many Restaurants in Pyongsung Can’t Pay Income (수입금)
Companies under the Military are Popular amongst Workers Innocent People Suffer because of Power Struggle over Goldmine in Hoechang County
Gold Mine Workers at the 5th Changdu Mine in Hoeryong Make a Living through Gold Stone Theft
Cracking Down on Resale of Government Supplied Diesel Fuel

(Image by Google earth)

Taechun County in Heavy Debt Due To Excessive New Home Construction
In Eunheung-ri, Taechun County, North Pyongan Province the demolition of old-fashioned homes and the building modern style homes started last year. The County Party held a meeting and decided that each factory and public enterprise should build two blocks of flats and provided the allocation of the duties. The factories and public enterprises that received the allocations had to get additional loans in order to cover the cost of construction, as the party did not provide enough funding. The average loan amount was more than 3 million won for the public enterprises. Now there are public enterprises withdrawing from the project altogether because they were recently ordered to build an additional block of flats. The enterprises say they have done the construction work despite the heavy burdens and the additional allocation is just too much to take. The County Party is showing their strong determination to build more homes by saying that they will fire the mangers of the factories and public enterprises who refuse to do the construction work.

Nampo Port is a Battlefield without the Sound of Gunfire
Nampo port is one of North Korea’s most important commercial ports, which serves as the center of external trade. Exporting of ore, coal, aquatic products, steel plates, and steel pipes is an everyday occurrence. However, freight transportation via ships has been disturbed due to frequent power outages resulting from a poor power supply, and from the limited availability of cranes and transportation equipment. Unless the exporting companies ship their freight on they will incur penalties. The companies with the power and good connections can get their work done quickly through bribing, but the small companies with no such power are helpless and are being pushed aside. Some of the more powerful companies obtain the signatures of the powerful division chiefs or department heads to get their freight loaded first. In some cases, they even bring the signature of the prime minister. Theses companies with powerful connections often load their freight beyond capacity and often cause the breakdown of equipment and machinery during transportation. A worker who is in charge of import-export work in Nampo port suggested by saying, “This place is like a battlefield without the sound of gunfire. They all compete fiercely against each other using their connections in order to ship the freight in time. We need a complete overhaul of Nampo port in order to solve these problems. We need a stable supply of power, and acquire more transportation equipment so that everyone can ship the freight in time.”

Many Restaurants in Pyongsung Can’t Pay Income (수입금)
Between March and July, many restaurants in the city of Pyongsung in the South Pyongan Province, could not pay their income(수입금) due to business hardship. The restaurants, once filled with customers during lunch hour, have been facing decreasing sales these days. Many residents cannot afford to eat at restaurants due to the rising food prices. A restaurant manager states, “If you want to look at whether a living standard goes up or down, you have to see how much income is paid by a restaurant and how many customers are in the restaurant. There are almost no customers during lunch hours. The restaurant does not enjoy doing its business. It is certain that residents of this city have a hard time making a living these days. My restaurant is also in a deep financial difficulty. Many restaurants have already shut down.”

Companies under the Military are Popular amongst Workers
Workers want to work for companies affiliated with the military during this food shortage and many single women are looking for executives or rich businessmen to marry. The military-affiliated companies pay higher salary and provide more food to their workers than do any other company. These workers also do not have to give bribes to the law enforcement officers. In other companies, it is more likely for the workers to give something to their company’s police or security agents for various reasons. Although the workers did not do anything wrong, they try to do well for the police or agents to try not to give any kind of reason for the police or agents to lead them in trouble. However, if workers work for military-related companies, they are able to feel at ease because such worries are minimized.

Innocent People Suffer because of Power Struggle over Goldmine in Hoechang County
Many people are suffering because of a power struggle between the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces (인민무력부) and People’s Safety (Police) Agency (인민보안성) over their interest in the goldmines. Initially, the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces was in charge of the goldmine. However, they kept it unattended because they though the mineral vein disappeared after a couple excavation efforts. Then the 8th bureau (8총국) of the People’s Safety (Police) Agency, which is the road bureau, went in and excavated gold using their professional construction equipment and technology. The Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces learned about this and claimed ownership. The 8th Bureau did not want to give up the ownership because of the labor, technology, and capital they have invested. So, they destroyed the goldmine with explosives and evacuated. Since the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces lacked expert technology and equipment, they had no way to mine the gold. So, they had to abandon the mines again. However, the 8th Bureau did not completely evacuate.

Although they could not get involved openly they provided the ore-grinding machine to the poor residents who went inside the mine to collect the gold ore so that they can extract the gold. The gold extracted was given to the 8th Bureau and the part of it was given to the people so that they can make gold rings and sell them at 8-10 dollars. Although the shapes and quality of the rings were poor they were much cheaper than the gold at international market price. So, it was a very important source of income for the people because of large demand.

The Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, which is still in charge of the mines, learned about it and became angry, and started to put pressure through the police so that people cannot sell the gold. However, the police also need to maintain good relationship with the 8th Bureau, which also is also the Road Bureau. So, they just superficially pretend to carry out the enforcement. Although the enforcement tends to be superficial it involves detaining people and confiscating the ore-grinding machine. As such, people raise their voice and complain, “We are suffering from the collateral damage from the power struggle between the big guys.”

Gold Mine Workers at the 5th Changdu Mine in Hoeryong Make a Living through Gold Stone Theft
At the 5th Changdu Mine in Hoeryong City, the North Hamgyong Province, fifteen kilograms of food per month is distributed to the workers and their family. However, many workers earn a living by pilfering gold stone from the mine. Although the mine security guard(보위대), the city public prosecutors station(시검찰소) and judicial officials in police (보안서 법관) try to control the thefts, they do not have the ability to catch some of the elusive workers. The mine could not meet China’s demand for gold on time because of the slow gold production. The mine explained to China saying that the newly developed mine could not produce enough gold. However, it has been known that the mine could not meet the China’ demand on time because of the over consumption by the city and the mining company, not because of the amount of gold stolen by the workers.

Cracking Down on Resale of Government Supplied Diesel Fuel

In the coalmines of Moosan, North Hamgyung Province, food ration is given to workers by selling government supplied diesel fuel at 1500 won per kilogram. The demand for diesel fuel is high as squid fishing is in season. The diesel fuel is being traded at costs as high as 3500 won per kilogram. Although the authorities are threatening tougher inspections, the reality is that the enforcement agents themselves make their living by receiving bribes from those who trade diesel fuel. The diesel fuel traders pour in nearly half of their profit to the checkpoint guards at Moosan coalmine security battalion and Mt. Gomoo (고무산) checkpoint, both of which are located on the way from the Moosan coalmine to Chungjin (port). Naturally, guards at the checkpoint are happy to have more diesel traders passing through.
On July 10, the leading secretary of North Hamgyung Province County Party spotted diesel fuel transportation vehicles while he was on a business trip and stopped them. A total of 6 vehicles transporting diesel fuel without official permits were apprehended during the half-day period. The County Party leading secretary confiscated the diesel, and reported the resellers to the police department for detention and interrogation. However, since the leading secretary does not have the authority to enforce such rules, people who heard the news reacted by saying, “They got caught because they were unlucky. It can’t be stopped because the profit is too big. This is not a problem that can be fixed by government ban because the enforcement agents themselves make a lot of money.”
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