A North Korean State Security Office in Pyongan Province has opened a parking lot in order to generate the necessary funds to remain open, a local source told RFA’s Korean Service.
“The large-scale lot is open for business in Sunchon City,” the source said, “It belongs to the city’s State Security Office, and even the employees of the parking lot are registered with the Ministry of State Security.”
As North Korea’s economic system changes with the introduction of market forces to the state-led economy, it is becoming increasingly necessary for citizens to find alternate sources of income, as the government salary is not enough to live on. Now it appears that this is starting to be the case for government offices as well.
“Car-related businesses like gas stations, car washes and parking lots are on the up and up these days, because people are starting to drive more in cities like Pyongsong and Sunchon,” the source said.
“If you decide to open one of these businesses yourself, the government will take a 30 percent cut and hit you with a ton of regulations, but if the Ministry opens these, they can use all the revenues themselves,” said the source.
“It seems like parking is the most popular choice, because running gas stations or car washes would require a substantial initial investment,” the source said. “Parking lots only need space. The Security Office figured that opening parking lots would be the easiest to start generating revenues quickly, so they started building lots using land from state-run farms.”
The new parking lot in Sunchon “is close to the Pyongyang-Nampo Expressway (a major thoroughfare in the region), so it is in a very convenient location,” he said.
“Although there aren’t many vehicles using the lot yet, this place will be packed once economic sanctions are lifted and coal exports resume,” added the source, referring to international sanctions on North Korea aimed at depriving the government of hard currency to build nuclear weapons and missile systems.
Coal drives development
Another South Pyongan source said the importance of coal to the local economy helped drive the boom in vehicle-related businesses.
“Sunchon is a big coal producer and has been exporting coal to China since the 1990s,” the second source said.
But the lucrative coal industry requires infrastructural support, including a developed service industry for the vehicles transporting the coal – leading to the situation in Sunchon today, where “car washes and parking lots are more developed than in other regions.”
It’s also fairly easy to get into the game, the source said.
“Many entrepreneurs can just rent state-run stores and transform them into auto-parts stores.”
In North Korea’s changing economic climate, it is becoming necessary for the people to find alternative sources of income. But it appears that this is extending further than just the citizenry; even government agencies are struggling to pay the bills.
“It has become a world where even the Ministry of State Security, which is the last bastion adhering to socialism and protecting the system, competes with individual money lenders within the market economy,” said the source.
And yet, the source says that even though the government is participating in the market economy, they still want to keep the people in the dark.
“It’s so pathetic that official government media sources like the Rodong Sinmun (the country’s major newspaper), still insist that the socialist economy should be firmly pushed forward,” the source said.
Reported by Hyemin Son of RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Dukin Han. Written in English by Eugene Whong.