North Korea Today No.378 November 24, 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.]

Reps of Overseas Worry over Extra Costs on Heecheon Power Plant Construction

Residents Grow Hostile to New Manager of Cattle Ranch in Daehongdan County

“80% of the Officials in Daehongdan County are Incompetent”

[One Year of the Currency Reform] Resident’s Opinion;
“The Policy Feeds Only the Rich”

“Still Do Not Know Why the Currency Exchange Ratio is 100:1”

Even the Rice Traders could not Predict the Soaring Prices

“The Central Party was Flustered as People’s Complaints Soared”

North Korean Representatives Overseas Worry about Request for Extra Contribution toward Heecheon Power Plant Construction
After the 65th celebration of the Party Foundation, the Central Party pushed representatives of North Korea in foreign countries and trade companies for extra contributions in speeding up construction of the Heecheon power plant. The Party requested support through material goods or cash for a sum total of $10 million before the end of the year. The representatives were opposed to this request due to their past assistance in both cash and materials. An official from one of the trade companies expressed his discomfort, saying, “How are we to survive giving this additional support? We are obliged to provide assigned contributions and send a great sum to the party every year, but business is currently not at all good. I don’t know what to do in this situation.” He continued, “Because they did not specifically calculate the cost of construction at the onset, there resulted an unexpected extra cost. They assumed that 1 million would be enough, so they asked a company in Dandong to contribute $100,000, and some other companies the rest. But it is not enough, so they are asking for additional contributions. The situation doesn’t seem like it will change before the construction is complete.” Some officials overseas also lamented this order, yet hoping for an improved situation, said, “We expected the young general to develop the economy as a successor of the great Kim Jong-Il, and we could not have imagined increased financial burdens on the overseas representatives. We wish he would build up economic cooperation with China to stabilize the country’s economic situation.”

Residents Grow Hostile toward the Newly Appointed Manager of the Cattle Ranch in Daehongdan County

Animosity against Young-Il Kim, the newly appointed manager of a cattle ranch in Daehongdan County, Pyongyang Province, has been growing among the residents. Kim did not receive a proper education as a child due to financial difficulties and grew up to become a hoodlum.

By a stroke of luck, he made a lot of money in the agriculture business. Not content with his wealth, he bribed political appointees and became the manager of the ranch. Kim began to abuse his newly gained power. Chun Myung Lee was his first victim. Lee complained to Kim that the waste from Kim’s ranch was flowing into a ditch next to his house, and demanded that the sewer releasing the waste be relocated. Kim, irritated by the constant complaints, ordered assailants to break into Lee’s house, destroy his property and beat him up. When Lee retaliated by reporting this to the Party, Kim was able to avoid punishment by bribing the leading secretary.

However, the residents did not cease their complaining. His relationships with several women, wrecking livelihoods and families, hoarding funds, constant cursing, and his use of violence were enough to create a commotion. The employees of the ranch reminisced about their former manager, whom they claim had a good reputation and skills but was ousted from his position because he was honest and refused to brown nose his superiors. “The ranch is becoming a laughing stock because some uneducated hoodlum with no skills became manager of it by using cajolery and bribes. This is proof of how corrupt our supposedly socialist society really has become inside and out,” voiced the people. Eight large cows, ten calves, and fifteen sheep have died this year due to unsanitary conditions and poor management.

“80% of the Officials in Daehongdan are Incompetent”

In addition to the people who get into trouble because they notably do something wrong like Yong-Il Kim, the distrust of the officials was profound among the residents in Daehongdan County. One officer in Daehongdan County expressed his worries that he heard a lot of words that he could not dare to include in the report. “The ignorant people wield money, seize the power and only brag regardless of whether the ordinary people are alive or dead. 80% of the officials in Daehongdan are incompetent and they cannot accomplish any work assigned but only talk big thereby injuring the authority of the Party,” he says words such as these are coming out indiscriminately. He also says that it seems like the people’s dissatisfaction towards Kim Yong-Il spreads into the entire officials.

This was a change after the currency exchange; people used to keep their tongue under a bridle and tried to watch out the officials in the past, but they blame the officials without reserve these days, according to him. He further stated that the voices that concern the future of the country are heard loud and these people worry about how the society can be maintained when the ignorant people pose as the intelligent or the officials.

[One Year of the Currency Reform] Resident’s Opinion, “The Policy Feeds Only the Rich”

It has been almost a year since the currency reform. When residents were interviewed about the reform, they described it as a nightmare that they can never forget. Young-man Kim (alias), living in Pyongsung City, criticized it as “a bad policy where the rich get more money than the poor.” With the currency reform at the end of last year, officials dispatched from each city, and district officials, officials at the Secretary Department, and police officers became the new rich, or cumulated many assets.

Each household was restricted to exchanging only one hundred thousand won in old currency with the new currency, so many traders and the wealthy in rural areas directly traded with officials from the cities by using their personal connections. Bankers and officials of the party or legal affair units received more than 20% as commission of the illegal exchange. Traders without enough assets became victims, proverbial ants falling down on the burning pot, forced to ask poor residents to exchange their money with new currency, and paying these residents 30 ~ 50% as commission. Mr. Kim expressed his dissatisfaction and resentment once again by stating, “Under this bad policy, those with money can evade it, but those without must endure it to death.”

[One Year of the Currency Reform] “Still Do Not Know Why the Currency Exchange Ratio is 100:1”

As Pyongsung Market, which used to be the biggest wholesale market in North Korea, was suddenly closed, the people who received the severe damages say that they still have a lot of doubts about this currency exchange. Kang Ji-Young (alias), who lives in Pyongsungdong, says, “Before and after the currency exchange, the government did not provide a specific and detailed explanation about this. There was just a sudden overnight notice that 100,000 old NK won will be changed into 1,000 new NK won per household. I asked why the exchange ratio was not the same but was 100:1, but no explicit response was given.”

“The currency exchange worker only said that the new currency will be exchanged at the ratio to 100:1 from now on because the price of the entire commodities including food will be arranged at the 1/100th of the original price. I was not able to understand at all what that meant when I heard it. Everyone who heard the explanation together was puzzled and half in doubt, and they said they did not know the reason. Moreover, people had various opinions when it was said that the market will be closed, every commodity will be dealt in the stores only and food will be sold at the Local Grain Policy Enterprises only. I could not do anything for a while as the immediate way of making a living was blocked,” says Jang Il-Hak (alias), who lives in Eundukdong. It has been a while since then, but the reality is that people still cannot properly purchase commodities or food in the state-run stores or the Local Grain Policy Enterprises.

[One Year of the Currency Reform] Even the Rice Traders could not Predict the Soaring Prices

The food situation has become worse for the people in Pyongseong city who had been able to reserve 3 to 6 months worth of food in the past, but find it now difficult to obtain even a week’s worth of food.

A number of families have difficulties securing food for day to day living. It is an especially bad condition for them as they lived so well next to people in Pyongyang thanks to the Pyongseong market. To survive, they have resorted to trading food in secret. Kyongok Kim (alias), a rice trader in the Jurye village reported that “soon after the enactment of the currency exchange act, we traded food ourselves and converted the old currencies to new currencies, because the government did not set the food price.

After some time, the new market price was established by the market regulators. At that time, very few traders sold food at the new market price. The rice price went up over time. Regulators said not to sell rice in the markets so the rice was hard to sell. Moreover, people withheld rice from the market hoping that they could sell at higher prices later. Rice prices kept soaring. I was anxious every day because it was so uncertain even for me when to sell the rice to obtain the maximum profit.” Consumers suffered even more because they could not obtain food during these times. Even rice traders could not predict the outcome.

[One Year of the Currency Reform] “The Central Party was Flustered as People’s Complaints Soared

An executive of the Central Party reported that people were much more upset than outside people thought. Even Pyongyang citizens conceded, saying that “people were all stunned facing such gloomy and miserable situations. Everyone was confused. People who have lived the painful life became even more enraged and cursed the situation.”

A trade officer who commutes between Hamheung and Wonsan city reported that “it was scary that other regions could explode at any time.” Wherever you go, people concluded that “the currency exchange act made their lives worse.” They even said that “it was an act to kill people because it closed the market without providing an alternative supply system.” “What kind of a rascal ordered such an act?” People strongly complained to the Central Party.

The wealthy merchants who lost almost all of their assets overnight went to the administrative committee of the City Party and complained “why are the prices not at levels you originally promised?” They complained not as individuals but as a group, demanding that “if you cannot drop prices, exchange the money back to the original rate at a one-to-one exchange ratio.” Shaken by the group protest, the County Party reported to the City Party; and the City Party reported to the Provincial Party; and the Provincial Party reported to the Central Party. This has been happening repeatedly.

An executive of the Central Party said that they have continuously received reports about similar disturbances that took place in major cities such as Hamheung, Chungjin, Pyongseong and Wonsan city. He has interpreted that “one of the reasons that former Prime Minister Kim Yong Il apologized at the cabinet and the 5.26 executive order was not only because of the major problems such as increasing the number of people who starved to death and the collapse of the national economy as a whole, but also because they could no longer ignore continuous protests from these beleaguered people.”

That means the Central Party had to abandon the strong measures against the market because the people’s complaints were higher than expected amidst social and economic turmoil, unrest and the increasing number of people who died of starvation.