Officials from the Central Party, Cabinet and provinces are being dispatched en masse to construction sites as well as municipal and county farms to directly support economic development, report sources in the country. The deployment follows a barrage of criticism from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during several on-site visits to construction sites in North Hamgyong Province, including a power plant.
On July 17, the Rodong Sinmun (North Korea’s Party-run publication) reported on Kim’s criticism of Cabinet officials who had allegedly failed to visit construction sites like the Orangchon Power Plant site in North Hamgyong Province and the Party Central Committee and OGD officials who have been complacent in averting such failures.
In late July, Daily NK sources learned that officials from the Ministry of Agriculture were deployed to farms in North Hamgyong Province. The deployment occurred rapidly, just 10 days after Kim had expressed his serious displeasure at the state of affairs.
“From early July, officials from the Cabinet’s Ministry of Agriculture and the Central Party, referred to by locals as ‘people from Pyongyang,’ have been living with farmers in the area,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on August 8.
The officials have been deployed in teams of two and are officially tasked with, “Living together with local farmers to understand their difficulties and daily realities and find ways to resolve these issues while encouraging [an increase in] production.”
One farmer from Chongjin City who housed a team of officials for about one week told the source that there was a Party order for officials “not to take even one kilogram of food from the farms, so they [the team of officials] asked not to be treated in any special way […] [The officials] are eating rice and other food that they brought themselves.”
Officials from the Central Party will return to Pyongyang after the fall harvest. They are permitted two visits to Pyongyang during their three-month stint at the farms.
A separate source in North Hamgyong Province with knowledge of the situation said that the deployment of the Central Party officials is not limited to agricultural sites, and also includes major construction projects. Ryugyung, a magazine for North Koreans residing overseas, published an article stating that the Orangchon Power Plant construction began 10 days after Kim visited the site.
“County Party officials and those affiliated with the Agricultural Management Committee and farm management are ensuring that they are operating in a way that will help them avoid criticism from the deployed officials […] They were unsure what to do as the crops dried up during the intense heat, but now they are actively trying new things like finding sources of water and trucks to bring in water,” he said, adding that farmers have been pushed to absurd lengths, even at times having to pretend to go to work during the intense heat.
Officials have also been deployed to farms in Ryanggang Province. A source in the province told Daily NK on August 6 that “officials have been deployed at small farms in Hyesan and other areas and along the Chinese border” and “are unable to put forth specific measures to deal with the drought.”
Wary of the monitoring by Pyongyang officials, she explained, municipal and county officials are making efforts to show up to work each day and are holding intense self-criticism sessions. These developments are in turn causing discontent among farmers and other workers.
“In North Korea, frequent visits by Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un to potato fields in Paekam County, Ryanggang Province, and other areas led to deployment of Central Party officials to these sites in the past; however, it’s rare for such a large number to be sent to nearly all of the farms in North Hamgyong Province and Ryanggang Province,” a high-level defector told Daily NK on condition of anonymity.
“During the Kim Jong Il-era, teams involved in the Three Revolution Movement [a nationwide effort attributed to Kim Jong Il aimed at improving the country’s economic production] would be sent en masse to production sites in the provinces, but this is completely different. This appears to be a concerted effort by Kim Jong Un to discipline officials.”
Kim Kwang In, the head of Korea Modernization Solidarity, added, “In North Korea, the words of the Supreme Leader lead to immediate action. This recent deployment of officials seems to be the result of an order by Kim […] He has promised to improve the economy, so he’s conducting on-the-spot guidance activities at economic sites and the officials are trying to show everyone that they are on board with Kim’s economic plans.”