SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un severely rebuked his premier and other senior officials over their “irresponsible” response to recent flooding that inundated farmlands, state media reported Tuesday.
Summer floods in North Korea often cause serious damage to its agricultural sector due to poor drainage and deforestation. Observers say Kim’s lambasting of top officials likely aims to shift blame for the country’s worsened economic hardships and food insecurity to them, to ease public complaints.
Kim on Monday visited a western coastal tideland, where seawater recently destroyed the embankment, flooding more than 270 hectares of rice paddies. After inspecting the situation, Kim accused officials of “very irresponsible neglect of duties,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Kim criticized Premier Kim Tok-hun for showing “the attitude of an onlooker,” KCNA said. He berated the vice premier for failing to perform his duties faithfully and playing “the role of a fuel supplier only” and said the director of the tideland reclamation bureau did nothing and concealed a large amount of fuel oil provided for construction works.
“In recent years the administrative and economic discipline of the Kim Tok Hun Cabinet has got out of order more seriously and, consequently, the idlers are spoiling all the state economic work with the irresponsible work manner,” Kim Jong-un said, according to KCNA.
Kim called the recent flooding a man-made disaster. He said the cabinet wasn’t aware of the fact that a local corporation in June launched an unauthorized construction project to build a drainage system there and didn’t take any measures even though the leakage of water was discovered at the floodgate bank. Kim ordered stern disciplinary steps for those responsible for the flooding damage.
North Korea watchers say Kim Jong-un’s moves are unusually strong given there were no reports of human casualties. They say Kim could use the flooding as a chance to reshuffle top officials in a bid to reinforce public confidence in his government, as he’s struggling to revive an economy reeling from COVID-19.
“Kim Jong Un appears to be searching (for) extreme steps to divert public complaints that have been heightened due to worsened public livelihoods and economic situations,” said Tae Yongho, a South Korean lawmaker, who served as a minister at the North Korean Embassy in London before his defection in 2016.
Outside experts believe North Korea’s current food shortages and economic troubles have deepened due to draconian pandemic curbs, U.N. sanctions and North Korea’s own mismanagement. But there are no signs of an imminent famine or major public unrest that could threaten Kim’s grip on his 26 million people.
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