North Korean leader berates officials over hospital project

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un berated construction managers for unspecified problems in building a showpiece hospital in comments reported yesterday that may indicate the country is struggling to secure the supplies amid United States (US)-led sanctions and a coronavirus lockdown.

During a visit to the construction site in Pyongyang, Kim lamented that his ambitious project of building a new general hospital was being carried out in a “careless manner” and without a proper budget and ordered all officials responsible to be replaced, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The report said Kim accused construction managers of making a “serious digression” from the ruling party’s policy over the supply of materials and equipment by “burdening the people by encouraging all kinds of ‘assistance’,’’ which apparently indicated rising complaints among people who were mobilised for its construction.

The KCNA report didn’t say when Kim visited the site and didn’t mention any comments by Kim over stalled nuclear diplomacy with the Trump administration or international sanctions over his nuclear weapons programme.

In announcing the plans to build the hospital in March, Kim made a rare acknowledgment that his country lacks modern medical facilities and called for urgent improvements in the country’s healthcare system.

However, the country hasn’t directly linked the hospital project to the coronavirus pandemic and has steadfastly maintained that no one in its territory has been sickened by COVID-19, a claim many foreign experts doubt.

Experts said the pandemic has hurt the North’s economy, already battered by stringent US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a construction site of a hospital in Pyongyang. PHOTO: AP