Despite popular unpopularity, North Korea may issue more vouchers this year

A photo of the currency vouchers currently in circulation in North Korea. /Image: Daily NK

The North Korean authorities handed over the vouchers (Donpyo) released a positive assessment last year, and despite their unpopularity with many North Koreans, it seems likely that authorities will release more this year.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Tuesday, North Korean authorities had discussions about the Donpyo at the recent Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee, concluding that the vouchers have succeeded in securing money for the state coffers.

In other words, the source claims that even if the limited number of Donpyo issued on a trial basis last year met with little enthusiasm from the public, the authorities managed to obtain foreign and local currencies corresponding to the amount of the vouchers issued.

Authorities reportedly ordered banks to build public confidence in the Donpyo turning them into cash for people or institutions who want to exchange the vouchers for foreign currencies.

This suggests that North Korean authorities recognize that the public still deeply mistrusts vouchers and that they need to take steps to correct this.

Additionally, North Korean authorities have ordered that traders and money changers who were arrested until late last year “to set an example” for refusing to accept the Donpyo or to change them less than face value be included in next year’s special amnesty.

Currency vouchers issued by North Korea in the past. / Image: Yonhap

Daily NK previously reported that authorities had ordered a special amnesty for many inmates of political prison camps and forced labor camps run by the Ministry of Social Security to mark the birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on February 16.

The move suggests authorities want to emphasize their magnanimity and “leadership of love for the people,” while earning public loyalty and trust by pardoning those punished for acts related to the Donpyo.

Meanwhile, North Koreans still avoid the Donpyo despite illustrative repressions and punishments.

The source said people try to hold onto currencies such as the dollar and yuan because they cannot trust the local currency. In short, no one trusts Donpyo, which many believe could simply disappear at any moment.

Another source told Daily NK that Donpyo are inconvenient to use because once obtained you have to redeem them again. He asked, “Who would want to use them when they are so burdensome to buyer and seller?”

The biggest public complaint is that consumers unilaterally suffer a loss when they use the Donpyo because they cannot receive change.

Since the vouchers were only issued in denominations of 5,000 KPW, people cannot receive change when purchasing items costing less than 5,000 KPW or items not priced above at 5,000 KPW.

Overall, the public apparently welcomed the Donpyo with little enthusiasm, complaining that they are impractical and money is wasted using them.

On the other hand, the fact that people’s unreceived change goes into the pockets of the state inevitably works in favor of the North Korean state.

Since the authorities gave the Donpyo A thumbs-up at the recent plenary meeting, attention is now turning to whether lawmakers will discuss a budget for the vouchers at the Supreme People’s Assembly session scheduled for next month.

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