SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un severely rebuked his premier and other senior officials over what he called their irresponsible response to recent flooding of farmlands along the country's western coast, state media reported Tuesday.
Summer floods in North Korea often cause serious damage to farmlands due to poor drainage and deforestation. Observers say Kim’s lambasting of top officials likely aims to shift blame to them for the country’s economic hardships and food insecurity, or could set the stage for a reshuffling of senior leadership.
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 he accused the director of the tideland reclamation bureau of concealing fuel oil that was supposed to be used for construction projects.
“In recent years the administrative and economic discipline of Kim Tok Hun's Cabinet has become seriously out of order, and, consequently, the idlers are spoiling all the state economic work with an irresponsible work manner,” Kim Jong Un said, according to KCNA.
Kim called the recent flooding a man-made disaster, citing a botched construction project that was supposed to improve drainage in the area. Kim said the project went forward even though a substantial leak was discovered. He 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 struggles 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.