North Korea Today No. 368 September 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.]
Kim Jong-Eun’s Special Villa Construction in Kyongsung County Seriously Strains Military-Civilian Relations
Residents Suffer from Burden of Non-tax Payment due to Special Villa Construction
Safety Accidents Recurs at Heechun Power Plant, Jagang Province
Construction Equipment Malfunctions Cause Frequent Accidents and Failures at Heechun Power plant
Pyongnam Special Labor Brigade Struggles as Posterior Support Cut off at Heechun Power plant
Meal Quality Deteriorates at Heechun Power Plant
Kim Jong-Eun’s Special Villa Construction in Kyongsung County Seriously Strains Military-Civilian Relations
A new mansion, known among officials to be Kim Jong-Eun’s villa, in Kyongsung County, North Hamgyong Province, will complement several existing estates built for Kim Jong-Il (Chairman of the National Defense Commission) and the late Kim Il-Sung. No official announcements concerning the project have been made by the Central Party, but even average citizens are able to discern its purpose which began construction on July 21st. With the exception of one ton of Sangwon cement, all materials for this four floor estate have been imported. The second floor has been completed as of the end of August.

The building of the villa has entailed mobilizing roughly 12,000 soldiers of the first, second and third battalions of the Engineering Brigade. Due to the hunger these soldiers have had to endure because of the ongoing food shortage, they have resorted to raiding local farms. Farmers have been powerless to stop the onslaught which has resulted in severely damaged fields and those who reported grievances were simply ignored or rebuked by military commanders. On August 16, when farm officials requested that commanders assume responsibility for their soldiers’ behavior, they were beaten. Although complaints ceased after this incident, news of this mishap has spread throughout the region resulting in civilian mistrust of soldiers who are believed to be connected to the suspect leadership of Kim Jong-Eun.

Residents Suffer from Burden of Non-tax Payment for Special Villa Construction
The non-tax payment for constructing new special villa in Kyungsung County is increasing the sufferings of the residents. Chungjin City and Hoeryong City were assigned of quality native rocks to be used for the construction, and when each City Party was instructed to prepare 800 cubic meters of small rocks that are 6 cm of length and 5 cm of width, it imposed the burden of non-tax payment to its residents. The households of the Neighborhood Unit had to fill 10 buckets with stones and turn them in. They could not include large rocks and had to break each one to a size of an egg before submitting them to the district office. This burden of non-tax payment increases even more because it is not just given to the Neighborhood Unit but is also given to each factory, public enterprise and other units as a whole. The children who attend school must submit their share of work, the housewives of the Neighborhood Unit must submit their share of work, and the laborers who work in the factory or public enterprise must submit their share of work, so if one combines the individual share of the mother, father and children, the total amount of the non-tax payment can only increase. People with money could evade the work as usual, but the poor residents had to go to the riverside to break stones under the scorching sun in midsummer. Although there were some people who were making money by breaking stones for other people, most of them were just busy with taking care of their own burden of non-tax payments.

Moreover, the parents were worried because their young children were mobilized to do the work as a part of the school project even though they could not even walk well due to the hunger and the work was difficult even for an adult. They have also suffered flood damages due to the localized torrential downpours and the public sentiments began to aggravate. People have much to say: “Just like a beggar, people cannot eat nor drink, and a lot of people are living a life in a rented house or storage that stores coal or firewood in an apartment because they do not have a house to live, so this special villa is a sheer nonsense. It is pathetic that they do not care about people’s livelihood at all and mobilize these hunger-stricken people to build a special villa in which nobody knows when to use. So many special villas are empty, and they could have used one of them. What are all these special villas for? Do they have to exploit the people by any means?” In addition, as if breaking and submitting the stones are not enough, it is also collecting the transport charges so it can transport the stones from Hoeryong or Chungjin to the construction site, thus creating more resentment of the residents. The City Party said that it must collect 500 NK won per household for the expense of renting a truck as well as the fuel cost since the stones cannot be moved by carts.

Safety Accidents Recurs in Heechun Power Plant, Jagang Province
Safety accidents are recurring at Heechun power plant in Jagang Province, which has received high attention from the government. At around 3 pm on August 13th, two people died from a fall accident in a construction site of Gangwon Special Labor Brigade 3rd Battalion’s waterway tunnel. When an explosion agent and a labor safety agent from the 2nd company’s mine entered the tunnel to disassemble an exploded detonator, the tunnel collapsed and the agents were buried underneath. Officials of the Special Labor Brigade took the accident for granted since they regarded it as an everyday occurrence. They reported to the upper unit that the deceased agents caused the accident by breaking the safety regulations due to their eagerness to work fast. The officials blamed the victims out of fear of being held accountable for the deaths once the specifics were uncovered. Only the families of the deceased were crying, and none of the officials showed pity, nor did they pay compensation. They only gave the families one Arirang Television demanding appreciation for the Party’s consideration.

When a safety accident occurs, the officials need to disseminate it and establish measures in order to prevent similar incidents. However, in many cases, they are treated as negligence or mistakes of the victims, which contributes to frequent recurring of similar accidents. On July 12, steel cable from a mine car broke, seriously wounding two soldiers who were working with hand tools. One broke his spine after being hit by the cable and the other got his ankle amputated. The victims were transferred to the wounded soldiers’ hospital of Ministry of People’s Armed Force but severe disability will make their living difficult. The direct cause of the accident was the worn-out steel cable from overusing. It was also pointed out that the soldiers were only focusing on meeting the daily labor goal and neglected the safety regulations.

Construction Equipment Malfunctions Cause Frequent Accidents and Failures at Heechun Power Plant
Unending accidents at Heechun Power Plant can be attributed to frequent breakdowns of construction equipment. Though various construction equipment and tools were used when construction first started, they did not last very long before breakdowns occurred. Due to failures in getting repair parts and supplies, some equipment remains useless for months. When a jackhammer broke down at a waterway construction site, people had to dig the waterways by hand. Two waterways had to be dug up, 4m × 5m in height and width, and concrete work had to be done. Moving debris could not be achieved by a winch due to a brake failure, so a tram had to be pushed by three crew members. Losing control or skidding on the way downhill caused workers’ arms and legs to be stuck between wagon wheels or cut off or even pinned under trams to their deaths. It is more regrettable that such accidents occurred because of equipment malfunctions.

Pyongnam Special Labor Brigade Struggles as Posterior Support Cut off at Heechun Power Plant
Regional Special Brigade drafted for Heechun power plant in Jagang Province has been having a difficult time. Even the South Pyongan Special Brigade, known to have been supplied with food and various home front supplies, has been struggling. The commander of Pyongnam Special Labor Brigade Kim Hakrim (alias) said “There were no worries up to last year since all the work wear and coatings were guaranteed by the set dates, and the heavy workload didn’t bother us since the posterior supply was reliable.”

However, they’ve had posterior supply issues since the currency reform took place and according to Kim, “All supply systems have been failing from this February along with the declining quality. So, it’s made it difficult for the Brigade to work.” After being asked whether the South Pyongan Brigade is in better circumstances than the Gangwon province or Hamgyong provinces, he said that was back in the old days.

“They supplied our South Pyongan Brigade with all food, tools and other posterior supplies. When the district city and county sends us the work outfits, utilities and supplies, we in the Brigade would then resupply it to sub-cities and districts. However after the currency reform, the entire people’s economic standards have dropped to the worst, there’ve been no improvements in food distribution, and continuous disasters have worsened the situation as a whole,” Kim said.

Ri Chulyong (alias) from Special Labor Brigade says he received money from home every month but recently he has been getting paid every other month. Their family’s savings have been used to the last dime since the currency reform, and his wife stopped working as the market closed earlier this year, the final strike on top of everything.

The market reopened but business is not like before and she is having a hard time paying the rent to even keep her shop in the market. Bringing home the bacon for the family of five including aging parents is a burden itself which prevents Ri from taking care of the family head living away. He says “For the months they can send me 10,000 won, the rest of my family can barely eat any porridge. So could I possibly ask them to send me money?” He says that it would be alright if his family could support him when the Brigade cannot provide him with supplies, but it’s the laborers that end up suffering since their families are in no better circumstances.

Meal Quality Deteriorates at Heechun Power Plant
Drafted by massive doses of national capacity, the food and material supply was at its highest when the Heechun Plant construction first began. Non-glutinous rice was provided every day and meat every two days. However, after the currency exchange last year the quality of meals has become significantly worse. Since this February, corn and rice each composed half and half. Now, rice consists at most 30%, and 70% is filled by corn. Barely a spoonful of soybean oil is given, and meat is given at most once a week. Last year, there was quite an amount of meat, but now it is difficult to find two or three pieces of meat. People express that they “drink soup that has barely the scent of meat.” Side dishes are salted radish and salted cabbage. Alcohol is sometimes offered, one bottle for three people, to relax after a day’s hard work before bedtime. Though better than other construction sites, compared to last year, the tangible deterioration of food felt by the crews of Special Labor Brigade’s is great. Above all, labor intensity is very high. The Brigade is composed of six troops. For waterway tunnels, the groups take nine hour shifts. Failure to meet the standards results in failure of the shift and sometimes people work for 12 hours a day or more. Overall, with a more difficult life, there are more safety accidents, and desertions. Though there are fewer deserters than other sites because they get sent to detention and receive severe ideological armament, their numbers are gradually increasing.