GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 343 June 2010

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Nontax Payments Remain the Same Even Though People are Instructed to Supply their Own Food
After Mandatory Fees, 1500 won Salary Shrinks to 300 won
Farms Implore at the Farm Mobilization, “Please Do Not Come.”
Better-off Parents Support Food for Students Mobilized for Farming
“We cannot afford to provide meals to mobilized students,” Onchun County Farms
[Editorial]
Now is NOT the Time to Collect Non-tax Payment

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Nontax Payments Remain the Same Even Though People are Instructed to Supply their Own Food
It turns out that nontax payments were not reduced at all even in a situation where people must supply their own food pursuant to the May 26 Party Directive. Although markets are entirely open, the purchasing power is still weak and markets have not been vitalized due to the small volume of goods in circulation, so it is difficult for residents to make a living by engaging in commerce. Nevertheless, in the case of Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province, each area continuously gives its Neighborhood Unit various tasks such as collecting dog skins, skins from rabbit, scrap irons, and scrap papers. Making an earning each day is already tough, and the various tasks aggravate the burden of living. For example, a piece of dog skin is now collected and it takes approximately 250 won per household; considering the rice price which is 550 won for 1 kilogram, one can see that this is a substantial burden. If a woman makes 250 won to 300 won by crouching down in the market and peddling all day, it is regarded as a good earning, so it is as if a whole day’s earning goes to nontax payments. A skin from rabbit is even worse. It takes 500 won to turn in the rabbit skin per household. Sometimes the demand is lowered to the people who claim that they cannot pay and they are asked, “If you cannot pay 500 won, then just pay 300 won.” However, nontax payments are not a one-time deal, and they come one after another in a different type, so it inevitably fuels the residents’ backlash. However, there is a limitation to refusal since their ideology can be accused, so people can not just refuse blindly. So they are compelled to pay and complain: “They do not provide anything to us and they ask us to supply our own food, but they keep taking things off from the people.”

After Mandatory Fees, 1500 won Salary Shrinks to 300 won
Although North Korea does not have an official taxation, several types of mandatory fees to the government take a large chunk away from a salary. Even when a salary is paid it is insufficient to make a living. It is frequently delayed and, when paid, one is left with only little fraction of it after mandatory fees. The Urban Construction Team in Sapo Division in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province received a salary for February on May 9th. Salaries for laborers vary depending on their rank, but regular employees receive 1500 won on average. Yet, the salary shrinks after mandatory fees are deducted, including 500 won for supporting pork to the army, 250 won for oil seed crops assignment, e.g. castor seed and sunflower seed, and 200 won for family events of colleagues and superiors. For a Party member additional 100 won is deducted for the membership fee. After paying these and other fees, employees end up with 300 to 400 won and as little as 200 won in a worst case scenario. People were told that taxation exists only in the capitalist society. With the non-tax burdens they have it is understandable to hear people complaining that socialism is no different from capitalism.

Another thing people are concerned about is lack of transparency and accountability. Mr. Kim who has worked for the Urban Construction Team for more than 10 years complained in strong terms, saying “who doesn’t know that mandatory fees are not truly for the public enterprise but for some individuals? Everybody knows a small number of officials divert the money into their benefit. I can’t see any reason to sacrifice myself for the officials. It is very hard to endure life with the fraction of money after fees.” Mr. Kim is not in isolation. Some people are saying that nobody wants to stay at a company when a salary worth 1500 won is reduced to 300 to 400 won after fees even if they work without skipping a day. Many people express their resentments that “While hard-working employees are trapped in a cycle of poverty, officials pursue only their own interests.” It seems inevitable that people have deep distrust towards the officials.

Farms Implore at the Farm Mobilization, “Please Do Not Come.”
Farms that suffer from food shortage show scary responses at the mobilization of city residents to help out the farm. It is because the respective farm is asked to guarantee the meal for mobilized labors that come to aid the farming. From the outset, it is too much of a burden to guarantee meals for the mobilized labors who are poor at farming and who do not take any responsibilities when even the members of the farm are absent because they do not have food for themselves to eat. Therefore, even if there are some mobilizing labors that can come to farms, the farmers are imploring them not to come.

Sagu-ri, Bugu-ri and Yeonjindong Farms in Chungam District, Chungjin City of North Hamgyong Province had a similar situation. When the middle school students from Soonam District and Pohang District decided to go to these areas for farming mobilization, many farming work units implored to reduce the number of students. Although the plenary meeting of the City Party had decided that the respective farm must supply food for the students, some farms have said that they will not accept everyone who had been allocated but will only receive less than 15 people per work unit. 30-40 students, which are the entire members of a class, are supposed to be allocated in each work unit according to the original plan, but they have requested it to be reduced by more than half. However, such requests were not accepted. The chairman of the Farm Management instructed the following: “Farming is not something that you can do tomorrow if you fail to do so today. In accordance with the turns of climate on the lunar calendar, if you miss the spring season, you cannot increase the yields in the fall, and national plans cannot be executed. Therefore, you must accept the efforts of the support groups. You must guarantee meals for the support groups even if you do not have any food, by making a promise to other families who have extra food that you are going to pay them back in the fall and borrowing from them.”

Better-off Parents Support Food for Students Mobilized for Farming
Farms in Chungam District, Chungjin City managed to provide the mobilized students with crushed maze every five days. However, the amount fell well short of what was needed. The students in growing period have the greatest appetite in their lifetime. Naturally, the shortage of food made some students flee to home out of hunger. A survey conducted by the officials leading the farms in Chungam District revealed that about more than half of the students fled in worst cases. The officials blamed the teachers. Particularly, the teachers in charge of the students who fled had to receive harsh discipline called “ideological armament.” Teachers ended up begging parents who are better off for food support. Middle School (equivalent of High School in South Korea) in Pohang District held a special parent-teacher meeting where they discussed how they could support food for the students during the mobilization period. The parents at the Middle School agreed that three parents are teamed up and deliver corn noodles and other dishes to the students every other day. The teachers at the school expressed relief that they are fortunate to have these parents who are well off enough to give support.

“We cannot afford to provide meals to mobilized students.” Onchun County Farms
Farms in Ryonghori, Ryonggang County and Mayoung Labor District of Ryongwolri in Onchun County, South Pyungan Province gave up their responsibility of feeding mobilized manpower. The reason is that workers do not show up to the farm due to lack of food, so it is clear that they do not have enough food to give out to mobilized students. Ryonghori Farm in Ryonggang County has a total of 11 farm classes where each section has about 13-15 people. Currently less than 5 farmers fully participate in farm work (on a full day basis). About 3-4 farmers attend 3 to 4 times a week and other 4-5 farmers do not attend at all. Each working unit faces the same situation. The reason why only 1/3 of workers participate is due to the food problem. Farmers themselves have nothing to eat so it is difficult to farm and it is harder for them to look after students who volunteer to help.

The County Party had to interfere because the farm work had to be done, but there is not enough food to even help their mobilized manpower. The County released their emergency food supply because they had to finish planting rice. It was not a lot in terms of amount, but it was sufficient to feed the students with crushed maize, cabbage and pumpkin greens as side dishes and seaweed soup. This was an outrage to farmers who were starving due to lack of food supply. They were complaining that the government does not provide any food for farmers but they give crushed maize and various side dishes to mobilized workers who are amateurs for the job. Farmers were not complaining that it is wrong to give food to children but they are protesting that if the government had that much to spare, they should take care of farm workers. Some farm managing officials turned a cold shoulder to this matter. Some claimed that farmers brought this to themselves since they cannot come to work because they mismanaged their food rations and suffer from hunger as a result. They paid little attention to the farmer’s food crisis and even stated “It is none of my business” and “If you think you’re going to die from starvation, then so be it.”

This atmosphere was reflected at the farmers meeting and the officials at the farm announced that farm officials can do the farm work with mobilized manpower even if less than half of regular workers come to work. Their main purpose is to stimulate farmers so that they can participate in farming. However, farmers showed their distressed position and commented, “It is pathetic to see those amateurs come out for rice planting. They do not follow proper procedure so we’re not sure whether we will be harvesting rice or something else. They are just glad to finish up rice planting. I wish them (officials) the best of luck. They better not blame us for not having enough for the fall harvest.”

[Editorial]
Now is NOT the Time to Collect Non-tax Payment
"I, their king, cannot even think of collecting taxes when I hear my people are dying of hunger. Furthermore, now that people had run out of last year's harvest, I fear that distributing the grains stored in the warehouses may not reach them in time; how is it possible to burden the hungry people with taxes? If, after sending an investigator to find out the situation amongst hungry people, at least taxes were not exempted, what else is there for me to do to give benefits to the people?" (From "Annals of King Sejong” January 6, First Year of King Sejong)

The period of King Sejong in Chosun Dynasty was a period considered most prosperous and peaceful in our history, but even then a big famine occurred. It lasted for a long time, 7 years. "People are the foundation of a nation, and rice is their Heaven," said King Sejong and he built a thatched hut in front of the palace and lived there for three years to commiserate with the starving people. In addition, in order not to waste the wealth of the nation, he took away more than 50 gyul of land from his sons' and grandsons' allotments. He ordered the royal property be distributed to the people while making sure that collection of taxes be prohibited as "collecting taxes is unthinkable." If we paraphrase it in a modern way, Great King Sejong regarded people as the foundation of a nation and the starvation of the people as the most serious crisis of national security; he then showed by example that "the task of rescuing the hungry people" is the top priority of his governance. It is wished that the North Korean government learn from it.

North Korea is, nominally, a tax-free society. On March 21, 1974 the principles of complete tax free policy were announced as the taxation had been regarded as a means of sucking blood of the people and exploiting the laborers, and April 1st is being commemorated as the Tax Abolition Day. However, in reality, a nation needs revenue and therefore as an essential source of revenue the government collects income from transactions, national corporate profits, society cooperation group profits, service charges income, etc. North Korean people would be fortunate if that was all.

Expenses for Three Great Revolution Evaluation Operation, Support for the Retired Veterans, Loyalty Resources, Compost Expenses, Foreign Exchange Earning Expenses, Items to Support the People's Army, Support for Farms, Expenses for Fish Hatchery as well as Goats Pen Repairs, etc. -- the non-tax payment list is getting longer in order to secure finance and raw material. The raw materials collected for this purpose include dog skin, rabbit skin, old/scrap metal, used paper, compost manure, peanuts, etc., etc. They are countless. People must pay either the actual item or cash. Even the holiday gifts, called the General's kind consideration, one must pay something in order to receive it nowadays. No taxes were only rhetoric; the increasing non-tax payments had long squeezed people's livelihood.

To find the items or to earn cash in lieu of them, residents work until their back hurts and students were afraid to go to school. The situation that provided the reasons for tax abolition, "During the Japanese colonial government, they squeezed the working people with 58 kinds of anti-people taxes and countless other taxes," is happening exactly in today's North Korea.

North Korean authorities indicated in their New Year statement that, "In this year of 65th anniversary for the establishment of Party, let us again escalate the development of light industry and agriculture which will lead to the determinative turning point in the livelihood of people." However, the North Korean authorities, through the May 26 Party Directives, proclaimed recently that, "The government can no longer supply food and commodities." And yet, the non-tax payments continue and the dissatisfaction of the people had hit the sky.

Now is NOT the time to collect non-tax payment but to rescue the starving people. The authorities should not be complacent simply because they told the people to be self-sufficient in food stuff. There are still a lot of things government could do. The easiest thing would be to get rid of policies such as non-tax payment that terribly burdens the people. The revenues needed to carry out the national plans must be secured from other sources. Suspending projects that are not immediately necessary might be a way to deal with the situation. In addition, the government should continue to endeavor to secure food supply by requesting international assistance or by importing grains.

In the long run, it would be necessary to establish the principles and types of taxation and to organize the legal system to enforce them. It is imperative that the tax policies reflect the principle that every citizen pays taxes in proportion to their income. As there are a number of high level officials that use their position to avoid paying non-tax payments while transferring the burden to the people, this (systematic) approach would reduce the abuses. Otherwise, the haves do not pay while the poor starving people continue to pay more non-tax payments, and it would not be much different from the terrible oppression of corrupt Chosun officials and Japan's colonial governance in the past.
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