SEOUL, July 20 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un slammed officials in charge of the construction of a major new hospital in Pyongyang, criticizing them for economic mismanagement and ordering their firing, state media reported on Monday.
During a tour of the construction site of Pyongyang General Hospital, Kim "pointed out serious problems in economic organization for the construction," according to a report by Korean Central News Agency.
Kim had described the hospital's construction as a "crucial task" in bolstering the country's healthcare capacity upon its groundbreaking in March, noting that "there was no modern medical health facility in the country's capital."
Construction officials are organizing the hospital's finances "in a careless manner with no budget for the construction properly set up," Kim said during his tour. The date of his visit was not specified in the article.
Kim said the officials were "making a serious digression" from the communist ruling party's policies around supplying equipment and materials and "severely rebuked [them] for burdening the people by encouraging all kinds of 'assistance.'"
The North Korean leader called for the party's Central Committee to investigate the construction project and ordered them to "replace all the officials responsible."
The hospital is slated to be completed by the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea on Oct. 10.
While North Korea continues to insist that it has had no cases of COVID-19, outside observers have expressed concern about the ability of the country's underdeveloped healthcare infrastructure to handle the pandemic.
Earlier this month, Kim called the North's efforts in preventing the spread of COVID-19 a "shining success" but "stressed the need to maintain maximum alert," according to KCNA.
North Korea closed its border with China in late January and strictly controls movement within the country. However, many question whether the secretive state has truly been able to prevent an outbreak.
Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said in April that he was "fairly certain" the North has had cases.
United Nations human rights expert Tomas Ojea Quintana also warned in June that North Korea was suffering from "widespread food shortages and malnutrition" that have been exacerbated by the border closure and quarantine measures.
Kim's public appearances have been limited in 2020, with lengthy absences that have led to speculation about his health. However, he has begun turning up more frequently in state media in recent weeks.
On Saturday, Kim chaired a meeting of the military commission of the ruling Worker's Party, according to a KCNA report, at which he discussed "the key issues of further bolstering a war deterrent of the country."
A report from the Congressional Research Service released last week concluded that North Korea was continuing to develop its weapons systems with an aim of evading missile defenses in the region.