Daily NK snapshots from North Korea

SPA Meeting
A scene from the second session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly held on August 29. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Korean Constitution changed to augment Kim Jong Un’s power

Kim Jong Un continues to expand his power. During the second session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) held on August 29th, it was belatedly made known that the North Korean Constitution had been revised during the first session of the legislative body (held in April of this year) to solidify Kim Jong Un’s role as head of state. Though the chairperson of the Standing Committee of the SPA has historically been the nominal head of state, the recent constitutional amendments named Kim, the chairperson of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), as the head of state as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Kim Jong Un has expanded his power in other ways, including the authority to enforce legislative ordinances as well as to appoint and recall diplomatic envoys to foreign countries. Moreover, in the elections for the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Jong Un’s name notably did not appear on the ballot. This was unprecedented: the chairpersonship of the SAC is usually given the pretense of being an elected office.

Illegal tollbooth takes toll on road repair progress

The Highway Administration Division of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) was ordered to conduct maintenance work on a local road in Chonnae County, Kangwon Province. Repairs began in March with an expected timeline of four to five months, but six months have now passed with the completion of the project nowhere in sight.

KPA officials finally ordered an inspection team to identify the root cause of the delay. The team found that security guards were allowing motor vehicles to use the road at night in exchange for an under-the-table “toll,” a practice that undid the day’s progress of construction work. The road was supposed to be closed off from traffic during the repairs, but this had inconvenienced drivers who were forced to drive over unpaved roads for an hour, instead of the 20 to 30 minutes it would normally take. In short, the security guards had offered drivers a quicker way to get where they were going. 

Senior officials assigned to the road repairs, not to mention the guards who operated the “illegal tollbooth,” are expected to be punished for corruption. It’s unlikely that senior officials were oblivious to what was happening under their noses. 

S. Korean government to conduct census of vulnerable North Korean defectors

On September 2, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification proposed a “Livelihood Safety Plan for North Korean Defectors” at a consultative meeting held with 23 defector support organizations as well as representatives from local governments. The ministry unveiled its plan to conduct a census of elderly, disabled, and single-parent families among South Korea’s defector population whose applications for a basic living allowance have been rejected.

The ministry hopes to proactively identify North Korean defectors facing difficulties such as economic hardship, illness, and societal isolation. The new measure intends to patch up holes in current legislation that limited assistance to defectors to one year while living in resettlement support facilities and five years in their own homes.

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