Hefty rice rations highlight prosecutors’ clout in hungry North Korea

Eating rice is a luxury reserved for elites, while ordinary workers get corn.
Hefty rice rations highlight prosecutors’ clout in hungry North Korea A photo illustration shows corn rice and rice displayed at a North Korean food store run by North Korean defector Hong Eun-hye in Seoul, South Korea, September 28, 2017.

Authorities in North Korea are supplying officials at the powerful prosecutor’s office with yearly rations of coveted rice at a time when the country cannot even supply most people with corn, sources in the country told RFA.

Though rice is a basic staple in other East Asian countries, it has become a luxury in North Korea, which suffers from food shortages made worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Steamed rice at a North Korean dinner table is a status symbol, and daily meals of rice separate the haves from the have nots.

Ordinary people are aware that prosecutors are provided with a year’s supply of glutinous and white rice, and they are becoming resentful, an official in the city of Chongjin in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA Wednesday.

“On the 3rd, I heard about it from my wife. She was at a college friend’s birthday party… and her friend’s husband is a chief prosecutor at the provincial prosecutor’s office. He bragged to them about it,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“The ordinary residents do not receive any food rations at all. Officials of the provincial party committee or the provincial people’s committee, which are the most powerful organizations in the province, receive the national food ration. But even they don’t get rice like the prosecutor’s office,” he said.

The official said he was aware that the prosecutor’s office was powerful, but he never knew just how much privilege they enjoyed.

“The prosecutor’s office belongs to the local distribution system and receives food from the local food administration office… The fact that the prosecutor’s office was able to receive an entire year’s worth of rations all at once, and all of it was rice, proves how privileged and powerful they are,” the source said.

“The provincial food administration bureau workers who allocate food to each region and unit would have had a hard time filling the request of the prosecutor’s office… Since the prosecutor’s office took all the rice, the bureau did not have enough to put it in rations for workers in steel mills and coal mines, and they received their rations in corn instead,” said the source.

“I am not sure if the city prosecutors and district prosecutors also received preferential rations like the provincial prosecutors did, but either way it is an outrage because ordinary people are having a difficult time without receiving any rations at all,” he said.

Since prosecutors interpret the law, they wield the most power, an official in the city of Hyesan, about 140 miles to the west of Chongjin, told RFA Thursday.

“We all know that prosecutors live better than officials at other agencies,” said the second source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“If the prosecutor’s office carries out a general inspection or investigation… people start trembling. What the prosecutor’s office wants, they can get,” he said.

The Chongjin official said the prosecutor’s office is an exclusive group staffed by only 50 people, compared to the party committee and the people’s committee, which have hundreds.

“There are many things that the prosecutors get for free. Though their numbers are small, they are at the highest level,” he said.

“Since corruption and bribery is so common, prosecutors who can inspect, investigate, and prosecute can increase their wealth by just doing their job. I know several prosecutors, but none of their wives need to work for a living,” the second source said.

Women are typically the primary breadwinners in North Korean society, as the men must work at government-assigned jobs and earn a salary too low to live on. Most families must start businesses of their own and only the women have time to run them.

“So, my friend, who has connections, was moved to the prosecutor’s office from the city party organization department. People at the party organization scoffed at him and showed sarcastic responses about him becoming a prosecutor, but they actually seemed envious,” the Chongjin official said.

“The largest and most beautiful buildings in any city are not the People’s Committee buildings, or those of various government organs, but the buildings of law enforcement. The tyranny and corruption of prosecutors, state security officers, and police officers in this county are severe, so the people's resentment against them is very high.”

Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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