North Korea's Kim berates officials over troubled flagship hospital

AFP , Monday 20 Jul 2020

The North has long used giant infrastructure projects to try to burnish the government's credibility

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated officials for their "careless" construction of a flagship hospital in Pyongyang and ordered those responsible to be sacked, state media reported Monday.

The North has long used giant infrastructure projects to try to burnish the government's credibility, including housing developments in Pyongyang and the continuing Wonsan-Kalma tourism development, but critics say speed is often prioritised over quality.

The latest scheme is the Pyongyang General Hospital, in a prime location across the Taedong river from Mansu hill, where giant statues of the North's founder Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il -- father of the current leader -- look out over the capital.

Completion is scheduled for October 10 to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party, and Kim called its construction a "crucial task" for the country's public health programme at a groundbreaking ceremony in March.

But after being briefed on the progress during a visit to the construction site, Kim "pointed out serious problems", the official KCNA news agency reported.

The commission in charge had organised the finances "in a careless manner with no budget for the construction properly set up", Kim was quoted as saying.

The project had been initiated for the "good of the people" but was "burdening" them with demands for "assistance", Kim said.

No details were provided, but Kim ordered the ruling party's Central Committee to investigate and "replace all the officials responsible".

The report did not give the exact date of Kim's visit.

It comes amid speculation that construction is being hampered by the North's difficulties securing materials due to tightened border controls over the coronavirus pandemic.

The already isolated, nuclear-armed North quickly shut down its borders after the virus was first detected in neighbouring China in January, and imposed strict containment measures.

Pyongyang insists it has not had a single case of COVID-19 despite the virus having infected more than 14.3 million people around the world and killing over 601,000.

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