GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 359 August 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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Hoeryong City Borrows Corns from Labor Detention Center and Distributes Them to Residents
Sariwon to Provide Food to the Special Protected Classes before the Party Officials
N. Hamgyong Provincial Party Directs Local Gov. to Distribute Rations to Veterans at Any Cost
Families Fleeing to South through Sea Shot to Death in Ongjin County
New Ocean Entry /Exit Guidelines Issued Due to Increasing Number of Sea Escapes
Food Situations for the Battlefield Construction Project on Mt. Baekdu
Mt. Baekdu Construction Meeting to Establish Food Measure Comes to Conclusion of Non-Tax Burden on People

[Editorial]
Setting Priorities among Large-scale Construction Projects
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Hoeryong City Borrows Corns from Labor Detention Center and Distributes Them to the Residents
According to the work attendance survey by the Labor Department of the Administration and Economic Committee in Hoeryong of North Hamgyong Province in June, the average rate of absence in the factories and public enterprises within the city amounts to approximately 40%. Most of them were absences without leave because of the food problem. Even in July, it was found that the distribution to the residents was not made yet, the commerce by the residents was not going well, and the residents’ food condition continued to be aggravated. The dietary life became extremely aggravated as the families who had a steamed corn meal at least once a day began to eat porridges for all 3 times a day and the families who subsisted on porridges 2 times a day could barely eat just once a day. The death rate has also risen as the starving families had evidently increased. So the administrative directors and the officers of the Grain Policy Department of the City Party had convened a series of meeting to establish measures regarding food, and had decided to receive the assistance of the Support Bureau of No. 22 Labor Detention Center which belongs to the National Security Agency. It was decided that on early August, corns harvested from the Labor Detention Center are to be distributed to the residents of Hoeryong first, and that the Grain Policy Department of the City is to return them upon harvesting corns in fall. As soon as the decision was made, the Local Grain Policy Enterprise of the City began to send transport vehicles to the Detention Center and transport the corns. The City Party stabilized the unsettling public sentiments by informing the residents who were gathered in the market of the decision to distribute the rations by early August. The residents are jubilating at the news that they can receive more rations no matter how small they are, since they were currently going through such a difficult time.

Sariwon to Provide Food to the Special Protected Classes before the Party Officials
For the first time in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, the City Party ordered food to be distributed to the special protected classes before the Party officials. Even the elderly, such as war veterans, citizens of merit, and heroes of great achievements, have been pleading the City Party with tears to solve the food shortage crisis. On July 16, the City Party held a meeting with the farm administrative officials to discuss a plan to solve this problem. The Party and the officials decided that following this year’s first barley harvest yield on each farm, the minimum of 3 tons and the maximum of 5 tons of barley will be provided to local grain policy enterprise. The enterprise called all of the farm names one by one and told them how much barley each of them would provide. The barley collected in this way will be distributed first during early August to the special protected classes: old veterans, citizens of merit, heroes of great achievements, families with at least three children, doctors, and teachers. The officials in security, police stations and the City Party will take the surplus barley left over from the distribution. If there is no barley for the officials to take, even they will have to eke out a living by themselves. However, the general residents are not included in this food distribution. So they were quite surprised to find that for the first time, the party and government officials were not the first in line to get the food distribution.

N. Hamgyong Provincial Party Directs Local Gov. to Distribute Rations to Veterans at Any Cost
In commemoration of 57th annual Victory Day on July 27th, the Provincial Party of the North Hamgyong Province directed local governments to distribute rations to veterans at any cost. On July 24th, the high-ranked officials, including the leading secretary of City and County, the chairperson of people’s assembly and the chief of police station decided that the best way to reward for the veterans’ service would be through priority ration starting in August. The Provincial Party reiterated that the distribution should trump any other concerns and stressed that no local government with responsibility and competence would fail to appreciate those who sacrificed for our country. In response to the directive, leading officials at local government level vowed to distribute ration to all veterans in order not to be called incompetent. The secretary in charge of the provincial party asked the officials to demonstrate their ability and competence by securing ration for the veterans, if not for others. However, no concrete measure to implement the decision was discussed among the high-ranked officials.

On the day of the annual Victory Day celebration, Chungjin City invited the veterans to serve them noodles and inquired about the most pressing issues they have. The veterans appealed for help with issue of shortage of food, saying, “We can put up with range of issues except starvation. It would be an enormous help if the government gives us the salary for one month.” The city party promised them, “If you just wait a little longer, we will provide you with rations.”

Families Fleeing to South through Sea Shot to Death in Ongjin County
On May 1st, four people were shot to death and one survived while a family attempted escape in Ongjin County, South Hwanghae Province. The defector, who was a high ranking officer in 425 basic training camp under Support Bureau, attempted to cross the border to South with his four family members, but naval patrol boat foiled the attempt. When the warning shots did not stop them, the naval unit opened fire into the boat, killing everyone except for the youngest son.

On May 28th, a seaman working on a Chinese crab boat made an attempt to defect with his family members. The outburst of gunfire attack was such that the boat, which carried five people, became tattered. The women and child died while the brothers-in-law fell in the water before they were rescued and transferred to the security department in the South Hwanghae Province. As the attempts to defect through sea continue in Ongjin County, officers in charge of border security post, including the heads of naval post and guard post respectively, were summoned to the Defense Security Command on the charges of “a lack of vigilance in border protection and negligence of their duty to prevent defection attempts.”

New Ocean Entry /Exit Guidelines Issued Due to Increasing Number of Sea Escapes
The National Security Agency has delivered a set of guidelines, “New Ocean Entry/Exit Regulations,” to all security departments in every province in the nation. During the squid catching season, the number of fishing boats going out into the ocean has increased. Therefore, the following official guidelines have been issued to be on guard of escapees to South Korea.
1. Those who are non-resident of a province are not allowed to aboard a fishing boat in the non-residing province in order to make money.
2. College students are not permitted to aboard a fishing boat for working purposes.
3. No more than two family members are allowed to aboard a fishing boat.
4. The boats belong to enterprises or the organizations that are out of commission should either be taken away or totally destroyed if they are on the shore near fishing guard posts or where there are a lot of boats.

Food Situations for the Battlefield Construction Project on Mt. Baekdu
In Ryanggyang Province, Kim Il-Sung’s revolutionary historic battlefield site is under construction on a national scale. Workers from Mt. Baekdu and other cities were mobilized for this construction project. Even though it is a project for the whole country, the food circumstances are not so great. In April, the food decreased greatly, but the South Hamgyong and North Hwanghae Provinces were in the worst condition. At other brigades food is so scarce that corn porridge is all that is available for all three meals every day. Last winter there was not enough food or daily necessities, causing starvation. Many workers begged for food from neighbors and farmers and some even sold the clothes off their backs to get food. Mr. Lee, Gi-Dong (alias) got a coat to wear during the cold winter from his wife, but he traded it for 5 pieces of bread even though there are more cold winters to come. He thought it was necessary to do so to prevent starvation.

People have been either begging or trading their belongings for food. When there’s nothing else to trade, they steal livestock and goods from other households. There have been so many thefts that people in neighboring villages took turns standing guard at night watching for burglars. More than 20 robberies and thefts were recorded every day. At first severe consequences were strongly enforced, but starting in January there were so many thefts that stealing is now not a big deal and there are small or no consequences for it.

Baekdu Mountain Construction Meeting to Establish Food Measure Comes to Conclusion of Non-Tax Burden on People
On May 17th, provincial brigade commanders, battalion commanders and support bureau workers who are in charge of Baekdu Mountain Battlefield site construction held a meeting for five hours to discuss food problems. The discussion continued until the closing time, but they failed to come up with any solutions. The central command stressed, "Although food ration has ended nationwide, we can't put off the construction. The beloved leader would be visiting again in August. We should show him how hard we are working. We must get through this difficult time. Let's pull through with porridge until May and try to get more food ration from city and county in June. We will try whatever we can so that we receive supporting goods twice every month. Let's just get through the tough time."

After the meeting, the central department sent an official note to each province. The meeting was centered on providing goods to leading secretaries of each city and county. The central party also ordered that the Organization and Guidance Department of each city and county take care of the food and goods for the special labor brigade. Even though this is a national construction project, they can only rely on the people’s non-tax burden. In the end, laborers end up preparing the food and goods for Baekdu mountain construction. The official letter’s "must provide" list include 30 shovels, 10 pickaxes, 4 pairs of running shoes, 20 kg of powdered popcorn, 20 packs of cigarette, 40 pairs of gloves and 40 liter of alcohol. Of course, each factory and public enterprises are required to provide different amounts based on their capabilities. Factories and public enterprises had to borrow 1,500 won against each laborer’s wages in order to provide the goods. Even though they promised to return the money, the workers will end up paying 1,500 in non-tax burden.

[Editorial]
Setting Priorities among Large-scale Construction Projects
The North Korean government has launched many large-scale infrastructure projects such as Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province, Uhrangcheon Power Plant in North Hamgyong Province, Seon-gun Power Plant in Mount Baekdu, Baekdu War Memorial, a 100,000 house construction project in Pyongyang, Mount Baekdu Tour Railways in Ryanggang Province, and the Food Market Street construction project in Hoeryong City. All these are being implemented simultaneously, aimed for completion in 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation. With so many construction projects going on simultaneously, it is understandable that meeting the demand for construction materials like cement, iron beams, and explosives is not easy, and providing food for the mobilized workers is getting burdensome. Even in cases where the government provided some fund for project implementation, it is not enough to cover the costs. As a result, the projects are being executed through nationwide mobilization and support assignment. On top of this, each region has its own construction projects to carry on. The shortage of raw materials and food is getting worse, and the burden of support assignment is growing large for each province, city, county, government business unit, household in Neighborhood Unit, and student.

In case of Heecheon Power Plant in Jagang Province, the large trucks, heavy equipment and other construction materials are relatively well supplied because it is the national flagship project. Since the central authority has a great interest in it and put a priority on it, the project is being executed by the full support from the military, the Party, and the people. However, it is still hard to provide the soldiers working in the construction site with sufficient supply of necessities. Due to the hardship, the first unit of the brigade made a decision to shorten the work shift from three months to two months. Apart from the construction brigade, there are at least 60,000 mobilized workers in Heecheon Power Plant. If a minimum food ration of 500g is needed per person, the sum total of necessary food supply would be 30 tons per day, which translates into 900 tons per month. This is a huge amount of food needed for a single construction project.

On the other hand, other construction projects are de facto abandoned due to lack of progress. The construction workers’ rights for life are being threatened in many of the project sites with poor and rough work environment. However, halting a project approved by the central authority is hard. With not many other options available, the management of those projects requests each province, city, and county for their support. Those regions received such requests then send out support duty assignments to its business units and neighborhood units.

For business enterprises, already struggling to cover their own operational costs and failing to provide proper salaries and food rations to their workers, this extra assignment of providing food to the workers mobilized for national construction projects is too burdensome. Neighborhood units are also struggling with many kinds of non-tax duties for different construction projects as well as for the People’s Army. For example, the prices of non-tax duties of dog and rabbit hides were 250 and 500 NK won respectively when the rice price in mid July was over 1,000 NK won. When it is hard for a business person to earn 300 NK won per day in the marketplace, higher duty than a day’s earning is imposed on people.

The power plants currently being built will eventually play an important role in providing electricity for the nation. However, forcing the project implementation without a proper budget puts excessive burden to regions, enterprises, neighborhood units and students who received countless duty assignments for project support.

Moreover, the harsh labor condition in the project sites puts the workers human rights in jeopardy. Soldiers and construction brigades mobilized by force are treated worse than slaves. They cannot sleep or eat enough and are treated like dispensable items. Often times, kkotjebis (homeless) and orphans are mobilized to fill the gap of labor shortage. People with already weak health conditions cannot endure the hard construction work, and this leads to many man-made disasters and devastating accidents. Due to the hardship, many run away from the construction sites, and the households nearby suffer from recurring incidents of theft.

Projects executed through premature completion, harsh labor environment and shortage of construction materials end up in a failure in a few years. There have been cases of national construction projects becoming useless after wasting enormous amount of government fund. The vicious cycle continues as they consume huge amount of funds and human labor and halt the operation after the project completion.

The large-scale construction projects aimed for 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation put the people’s lives in misery. Too much cut in the length of the construction cycle leads to faulty construction, and its social costs are enormous. Despite all the needs and right causes, the infrastructure projects should be implemented systematically according to a set of priorities. Project cycles should be normalized and the budgets should be properly allocated to ensure successful results. If the 2012 Strong and Prosperous Nation is a promise made to the people, the process of realizing it should be done through their cooperation and support.

Showcase projects impose huge burdens of forced labor and duties on the people. They worsen the people’s livelihood and adversely affect the operation of factories and business units. The impacts of this vicious circle fall on the most vulnerable class of the society. The North Korean government should take note of the precedents of old dynasties whose large-scale construction projects provoked profound resistance from the people and threatened the existence of the regime itself. The government should take the initiative and review the stance of the current projects. It should make a policy decision by incorporating a bottom-up approach, taking people’s opinions into consideration, and setting priorities for national and regional projects.
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