North Korea’s five-star failure

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

THE luxurious 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel dominates Pyongyang’s skyline with its remarkable arrow-shaped façade and its shiny glass exterior.

It was supposed to boast no less than five revolving restaurants, more than 7,000 guest rooms, service that would put rival hotels to shame, and surprisingly – western operated casinos and nightclubs. Take note that I used the word “supposed”.

Since the Ryugyong Hotel’s construction started in 1987, the project has been plagued with problems, construction halts and opening delays. The first time it halted construction was two years after its groundbreaking – in 1989. Baekdu Mountain Architects and Engineers, the company that was putting up the building, encountered numerous problems with its materials and construction methods, and decided to postpone the grand opening until they could sort everything out.


In 1992, the Ryugyong Hotel had reached the height specified in its blueprints, but work was halted again because – surprise, surprise – North Korea had ran out of money, food and electricity… again. The building was like a financial vacuum, sucking up over 2% of North Korea’s GDP and having nothing to show for it but a nice looking concrete husk.
The year before, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, North Korea’s greatest benefactor, had ceased to exist. With its collapse, the North had little choice but to continue the project on its own. So – North Korea rolled up its sleeves and proceeded to do what it did best – fail.
There was a giant construction crane sitting at the top of the building, rusting away. Foreign inspectors later reported that the building was so poorly built that the structure was deemed “irreparable” due to the use of inferior-quality concrete and crooked elevator shafts.

Where was North Korea getting the money to build this project? It seems highly likely that the leader who began this project, Kim Jung-Il, decided to throw money at it because it was the biggest, shiniest thing in the country. The construction was haltedseveral times because North Korea had plunged itself into a deficit which was caused by numerous problems, including, no doubt, the giant useless arrowhead that pierced the North Korean skyline.

In 2008, North Korea decided to stop procrastinating and do something about this project that was costing them approximately 674 billion won (P210.7B) – they resumed construction with the help of the Egyptian company Orascom Hotels and Development, which remarkably stated that it did not encounter as many problems as it had expected.

They even set a deadline for the completion of the project – April 15, 2012. Now, this date has come and gone – and I believe you can guess what happened. North Korea botched the project again because of – you guessed it – lack of funding.

The Kempinski group, famous throughout Europe for their luxury hotels and services, announced that it would be running the hotel, but will probably be waiting until the next millennia fort the thing to open, if the present situation can be taken as any indication.

If North Korea can’t even complete a hotel in more than 16 years, then why are we so worried about their rocket program?

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 28, 2013.


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