Another day, another disruption - Koreans make do with Ebola measures

We mentioned last week that North Korea’s Ebola response could be better communicated, in order to minimize disruptions to its stakeholders. Over the course of the last two weeks, there seems to be a herky-jerky response to Ebola from the country, with uncertainty over what kinds of travel would be restricted, and a rapid escalation of quarantine measures over a short span of a few days. Choe Sang Hun at the New York Times, Anna Fifeld at Washington Post and Eric Talmadge at Associated Press covered this sequence of events well

This episode tells us a lot about how policy is made in North Korea. Like many policies, decisions are made within a small circle of key decision-makers, with limited stakeholder consultation, then circulated to Ministries and middle-level officials to implement. Because of the limited information available to the middle management, many of them are left to guess how the policy will be implemented. The North Korean Ebola-related travel restriction reflects this, as North Koreans in-charge of overseas exchanges were themselves finding out more about what travel restrictions were in place each day. For certain policies, not including the Ebola prevention measures, this at times provides a degree of discretion to the people implementing the policy.

To give credit to the North Koreans working with foreign counterparts, many of them have been trying their best to be as responsive as they can be despite the limited information they were given on a rapidly changing policy. For example, shortly after hearing about bans on tourist visits because of Ebola, our partner made efforts to understand how this would affect a training program on tech entrepreneurship we were preparing to hold in Singapore. We were initially informed that the program had to be cancelled, as participants could not leave to attend the program. We requested that they check if a program later in November would work.

After further consultations with the relevant authorities, our partners indicated that permissions might be secured for travel for a mid-November program and requested a delay of the program. During this period, they have been actively communicating with us, despite the information silo they themselves operate in. For that, we have our partners to thank.