Kim lays blame at officials for N Korea’s economic failures

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ripped into the performance of his Cabinet and fired a senior economic official he appointed a month ago, saying they’d failed to come up with new ideas to salvage an economy in decay.

The report by state media yesterday comes during the toughest period of Kim’s nine-year rule. The diplomacy he had hoped would lift United States (US)-led sanctions over his nuclear programme is stalemated, and pandemic border closures and crop-killing natural disasters last year deepened the damage to an economy broken by decades of policy failures, including a crippling famine in the 1990s.

The border closure caused trade volume with China, the main source of support for North Korea’s economy, to drop by 75 per cent in the first 10 months of the year. Raw materials shortages caused factory output to plunge to its lowest level since Kim took power in 2011, and prices of imported foods like sugar quadrupled, according to South Korea’s spy agency. Some analysts said the current challenges may set up conditions for an economic perfect storm in the North that destabilises markets and triggers public panic and unrest.

The current challenges have forced Kim to publicly admit that past economic plans hadn’t succeeded. A new five-year plan to develop the economy was issued during the ruling Workers’ Party congress in January, but Kim’s comments during the party’s Central Committee meeting that ended on Thursday were rich with frustration over how the plans have been executed so far.

During Thursday’s session, Kim lamented that the Cabinet was failing in its role as the key institution managing the economy, saying it was producing unworkable plans while displaying no “innovative viewpoint and clear tactics”.

He said the Cabinet’s targets for agricultural production this year were set unrealistically high, considering limited supplies of farming materials and other unfavourable conditions.