Ri Man Gon, a high-level North Korean government official who was dismissed earlier this year for his involvement in a corruption scandal, is now in charge of procuring construction materials for the Pyongyang General Hospital, Daily NK has learned. 

“When the [delivery of] materials failed to keep up with what was needed, the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] pointed out that the hospital’s construction schedule might not be met and put Ri in charge of addressing the situation,” a Daily NK source in Pyongyang said on June 15. 

“Ri is the head of procuring construction materials, but he is effectively in charge of the whole project since no amount of workers can complete the project without the requisite materials,” he added. 

THE RIGHT MAN FOR THE JOB

After his dismissal in February due to a corruption scandal, Ri had been helping Munitions Industry Department Director Ri Byong Chol until early last month to exert more government control over factories under the country’s Second Economic Committee. Early this month, Kim Jong Un reportedly considered him the right person to resolve material shortages for the Pyongyang General Hospital project and summoned him to fix the issue. 

Ninety-percent of factories across North Korea produce things for the military, which means that construction material orders, including those involving steel and wood, must be placed at factories that normally focus on military-related goods. 

Ri was considered an ideal candidate for fixing the Pyongyang General Hospital project’s construction material shortages because he has insight into the state of military-related production and a demonstrated ability to see projects through to completion. 

“Ri Man Gon has virtually written the history of military-related production in North Korea, surpassed only by Yon Hyong Muk and Thae Jong Su, and he has been recognized by the General [Kim Jong Il] and the Supreme Leader for his penetrating insight into all aspects of the four pillars of military production – research, production, screening and deployment,” the source told Daily NK. 

“He knows military-related factories like the back of his hand and is considered highly competent in managing the production process while providing reports that reflect the realities on the ground,” he added. 

Ri’s appointment has reportedly led to a surge in the amount of construction materials now heading to Pyongyang from across the country, which has allowed the project to proceed at a rapid pace. At present, 80% of the hospital’s exterior has been completed along with 63% of its interior construction work. 

The source told Daily NK that high-ranking members of the hospital’s construction team believe that, if this momentum continues, the hospital’s exterior should be finished before Oct. 10, the anniversary of the North Korean communist party’s establishment and the deadline for the project set by Kim Jong Un.

PESSIMISM IN THE RANKS

While the country is going all out to finish the hospital’s interior construction work by the deadline, construction project managers are reportedly pessimistic that the hospital will open its doors by Oct. 10. 

Materials such as talcum and paint cannot be provided in sufficient quantities by domestic producers, so they are being imported from overseas. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has caused delays in these imports. Daily NK’s source said that managers are somewhat skeptical as to whether the hospital’s interior construction work can be finished before Oct. 10. 

“While it appears that the exterior can be completed before Oct. 10, they’re saying that more time will be required to furnish the interior with medical equipment and open its doors as a functioning hospital,” the source said. “[Nonetheless], Ri Man Gon believes it is his responsibility to ensure a smooth supply of materials [to the project] so that the structure can be finished by Oct. 10.” 

Military construction units, such as Construction Bureau 8 and the Hero Guard Corps, are working on the project. The soldiers were originally working non-stop, but a series of construction-related accidents led construction managers to place them on day and night shifts. 

“At the moment, one group sleeps during the day and works at night, while the other sleeps at night and works during the day,” the source said, adding, “Others are called in from organizations around the country to help out when there is a shortage of labor.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.