North Koreans conducting business at a market in Rason City, North Hamgyong Province.
Image: Daily NK Photo Archive
Multiple sources in North Korea have reported that the responsibilities and authority wielded by inminban leaders (similar to a local neighborhood watch organization) seems to be expanding in places throughout the country. These individuals are notionally in charge of the lowest-level form of administrative unit in North Korea.
“Recently, the authority of inminban leaders has grown and there are many people who want to become one,” said a Pyongyang-based source to Daily NK on May 23. “They were called ‘no-wage errand runners’ in the past and didn’t receive any special benefits, but the position has risen in popularity now that there are special rations for them from the local district offices.”
“There are cases where the inminban heads in Pyongyang have the authority to expel families who have committed an infraction, which has made people take extra efforts to be kind to them. The increase in authority they have is evidenced by the fact that inminban leaders accompany the police or Ministry of State Security agents on home visits,” she added.
This trend has become more prevalent since the firing of Ministry of State Security Director Kim Won Hong last year, according to the source. The North Korean government ordered officials to “rid the country of those who lord over the people” in an attempt to prevent corruption among the elite ruling class. According to the source, this order has led to the wider dispersion of power in the country.
“There are still many unseemly government officials who are stealing from regular people’s’ pockets, but it feels like there’s less of that now,” said another source in Ryanggang Province. “A minority of those working in the judiciary who had used their power to threaten or steal from regular people have been punished, and this has led to an awakening of sorts among the elite ruling class.”
She added, “There are North Koreans who fight back against officials who still treat those inferior to them rudely. There are more North Koreans who readily point fingers at the elites who cause conflict in their efforts to accumulate more wealth.”
North Koreans have responded positively to the rising authority wielded by inminban heads. They perceive the trend as the result of a campaign to fight against those elites trying to maintain their vested interests.
“North Koreans like the fact that power has been spread evenly across government agencies so that even low-level officials like inminban leaders can enjoy some level authority,” a source in North Hamgyong Province explained.
“Wives of government officials want the inminban leader positions, particularly as the position has risen in status. But they are coming across difficulties because ordinary people have become more savvy in regards to the politics surrounding the position. It is no longer the case where the individual selected by the local district office or the wife of a local official gets automatically chosen for the position.”
Daily NK reported in March that the wife of a government official who wanted to become an inminban leader in North Hamgyong Province was rejected for the post due to resistance from the local community.