North Korean military
North Korean soldiers assembled at Kim Il Sung Square to commemorate the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea on October 10, 2016. / Image: Daily NK

North Korea’s thermal power plant renovations treat symptoms, not root cause of chronic power outages (Mun Dong Hui)

Officials in North Korea recently commenced large-scale and extensive renovations of power production facilities and equipment at the Suncheon, Bukchang, and Chongchon River Thermoelectric Power Plants to address the persisting issue of power shortages. However, the state of the facilities have deteriorated since their construction four to five decades ago to the extent that the effectiveness of the repairs is questionable.

As the useful life of the equipment averages approximately thirty years, the existing boilers and turbine generators are seen as being obsolete to the point that the current maintenance efforts will fail to address the underlying problems. Instead of repowering (replacing the equipment entirely), North Korean authorities have opted for retrofitting (remodeling or replacing only parts of the existing equipment), making a trade off of operational efficiency for reduced expenses and a quicker turnaround time.

Soldiers dishonorably discharged for corruption (Kim Yoo Jin)

North Korean authorities are cracking down on cases where soldiers are being stationed at to units near their original place of residence so that they are able to return home often during their military service. After civilians witnessed newly enlisted soldiers spending several days at a time or even commuting from and to their parents’ homes, authorities investigated and uncovered cases of preferential treatment in the base assignments of certain soldiers.

Given the larger economic downturn in North Korea and especially the deficient food supply situation within the military, these families were able to bribe the Military Mobilization Office to have their sons deployed close to their homes. Commissioned officers used their power and the donju (nouveau riche) used their money to bribe the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces (MPAF). This under the table quid pro quo has been ongoing since 2000, with most of the preferential placements taking place in the vicinity of Pyongyang and other metropolitan areas.

Authorities have responded with a policy of dishonorably discharging soldiers found to be recipients of this preferential treatment. A dishonorable discharge prevents political advancements and creates disadvantages for the soldiers in the workplace assignment process.

Authorities crackdown on “anti-socialist” sentiment on Sino-North Korean border (Ha Yoon Ah)

North Korean authorities in the Sino-North Korean border region have been conducting lectures to extol the superiority of socialism, eradicate “anti-socialist” sentiment and behavior, and mitigate the growing risk of defections to China among the local population. Daily NK recently procured evidence of large-scale ideological education taking place in the border region in the form of lecture materials titled “Crush All Anti-Socialist Acts” and “Two Diametrically Opposed Realities Seen Through the Image of Children.”

“Anti-socialist” activities warned against in the materials include: smuggling and black market trade of national resources, e.g., non-ferrous metals; production and sale of counterfeit goods, e.g., alcohol, medical products; the import and circulation of foreign media; religious and superstitious activities; drugs and narcotics-related activities; conspicuous singing and dancing while wearing unusual clothes and accessories; cohabitation out of wedlock; and the prostitution of women.

These behaviors are also punishable under the legal code of North Korea. The materials also condemned “capitalist” activities such as earning money from the operation of a beauty or hair salon in a private domicile; earning money and employing individuals without officially registering a motor vehicle or restaurant; and earning money from the use of medical equipment within a private domicile.

The lecture materials called on border-region residents to report on neighbors that exhibited such behaviors and to instill reverence for the party and the state among the country’s youth. North Korean officials are focusing on the ideological state of the younger generations because of higher rates of consumption of foreign media by young people in the country.

Danchon denizens forced to collect scrap iron for apartment complex (Jong So Yong)

Residents of the city of Danchon in South Hamgyong Province have been ordered to collect scrap iron in order to compensate for a lack of rebars required for the construction of an apartment complex. Given the many construction projects forced upon North Koreans all over the country by the authorities, the supply of steel has become insufficient to the point that steel mills have ceased granting priority to local construction projects. 

“Since July of this year, the requisite amount of steel demanded from civilians has more than tripled in amount, so students do not even have the time to attend classes because they have been mobilized to gather scrap iron. Residents are at a loss as to what to do,” a source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK. If a household is unable to fulfill their quota, they can make up the difference with cash payments. However, residents have been expressing discontent with having their disposable income taken away by the state when most households are lacking sufficient food rations.

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