North Korea installs more complaint boxes to tackle corruption

Critics say the campaign to make reporting easier is unlikely to stop abuses.
By Hyemin Son for RFA Korean
2022.09.19
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North Korea installs more complaint boxes to tackle corruption A report box has been installed at the Sungri Motor Plant, shown in this file 2017 photo, a source has told RFA.
KCNA via Reuters

North Korea has started installing complaint boxes at all government facilities as part of an effort to root out corruption, but North Koreans are balking at reporting graft through a system that requires them to provide their names.

Government workers, like all North Korean citizens, are paid a small monthly wage by the state, but it is not enough to live on. Most families start businesses, selling goods in the marketplace or performing services to make enough money to get by. Government officials, however, can use the power of their position to bring in extra cash by extracting bribes in return for their services.

Citizens who know about the shady dealings can now more easily report them, although many are reportedly reluctant to do so. Complainants must give their names, leaving them susceptible to retribution by the people they identify as corrupt. 

“A box for reporting on officials was installed on the main gate of the Hungnam Pharmaceutical factory the day before yesterday,” a resident of the eastern province of South Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean Service Sept. 15 on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“Up until now they only had report boxes at the building of the reporting division at the provincial, city and county level. … The fact that the report box is now in a factory is an expansion of the corruption reporting system,” said the source. “This measure follows the Central Committee’s order to strengthen the system to identify officials who are blinded by self-interest and are violating the interests of others.”

A factory worker can now simply slip a letter into the box at the workplace instead of going into town to the city party building to file a report, according to the source. When the box gets full, a party committee member at the factory will send its contents to the report division, where it is passed up the chain and dealt with.

Authorities in the Seungri Motor Complex in Tokchon, South Pyongan province, north of the capital Pyongyang, installed boxes at the factories there, making it far more convenient for workers to report. But few people believe that more easily filing complaints will lead to less corruption, a source there told RFA.

“Authorities are suddenly encouraging residents to report corruption by officials who abuse their powers to extort bribes,” the second source said. 

“This is because of the increasing number of residents turning their backs on the system due to extreme hardship after the pandemic crisis,” said the second source.

Beijing and Pyongyang closed the Sino-Korean border and suspended all trade at the beginning of the pandemic in Jan. 2020. The closure was ruinous for the already unstable North Korean economy, much of which is dependent on imported goods from China.

Government officials, however, got along as they always have, catching people doing illegal things and demanding bribes, at a time when many North Koreans are worried about finding their next meal. Public sentiment for corrupt officials is now “serious,” the second source said. 

According to the second source, many people do not believe the government genuinely cares about ending corruption, saying that adding more reporting boxes is more for show than substance. 

Additionally, people are reluctant to file reports, because they must identify themselves as the reporter, writing their name, job and address on the reporting documents, the second source said. 

There have been cases where the chief of the reporting division colluded with corrupt officials, and they used the identifying information to retaliate and punish the reporter with the full power of the government, according to the second source. 

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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