The Good, the Bad and the Optimistic

A regular publication of NKNet, NK In&Out reports this month that food prices in North Korea have remained stable over recent weeks, with all sales in the Pyongyang jangmadang being conducted at market prices and with limited government intervention.

Indeed the report notes that some of the government’s recent efforts to improve the efficiency of light industrial facilities may be having some tangible benefit on the people’s wellbeing. It describes the situation surrounding the successful modernization of six factories in the Pyongyang area. The factories, covering food sources, food manufacturing, clothing, steel-products, wood-products and construction were modernized during 2008. According to the report, the prices of soy sauce and oil have both dropped since the completion of the modernization program, with soy sauce prices showing a marked 33% reduction. Whether similar gains are being made outside the privileged capital is unknown.

Meanwhile, NK In&Out reports that the Koryolink cell phone network set up by Egypt’s Orascom in 2008 is proving to be neither a success nor a failure. On the down side, the price of the phones themselves has had to be dropped as a consequence of lower than expected sales volumes, which may also be directly related to the onerous requirements for obtaining the phone, those being a certificate from a company and a security agent’s signature, in addition to one’s own I.D. card and a large amount of money.

NK In&Out also points out that the whim of Kim Jong Il may also be limiting sales, since citizens are unprepared to suffer the losses that would result from the cancellation of the service were Kim to decide that it was compromising the Party’s control over society.

However, in spite of these teething difficulties, the report states that Orascom is planning to extend coverage into local areas by the end of this year, and notes that traders are finding the new service particularly helpful.

On a different note, the authorities in Pyongyang have decreed that the Chongcheon River dam should be finished in three years, instead of the ten that the scale of the engineering tasks suggest is needed.

According to a report in NK In&Out, the plan requires the diversion of “two or three rivers” and the construction of long tunnels. The new deadline is, of course, part of the thrust to build a strong and prosperous state by 2012, the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth. Few seem convinced that it will be successful, with one source suggesting that it will be “shoddy.”

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