A picture of the foreign currency vouchers currently in circulation in North Korea. (Daily NK)

North Korean authorities have given the cash vouchers (donpyo) issued last year a positive evaluation, and despite their unpopularity among many North Koreans it appears likely the authorities will issue more this year.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Tuesday, the North Korean authorities held discussions about the donpyo during the recent Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee, concluding that the vouchers succeeded in securing some cash for state coffers. 

That is, the source claims that even though the limited number of donpyo issued on a trial basis last year met with little public enthusiasm, the authorities managed to secure foreign and local currency commensurate with the amount of vouchers issued.

The authorities have reportedly ordered that banks boost public confidence in the donpyo by changing them into cash for people or institutions that want to exchange the vouchers for foreign currency.

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

Additionally, North Korean authorities have ordered that merchants and money changers who were arrested through the end of last year “to set an example” for refusing to accept the donpyo or for changing them less than face value be included in next year’s special amnesty. 

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

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

The move suggests that the authorities wish to emphasize their magnanimity and “leadership of love for the people” along with earning public loyalty and trust by pardoning people punished for acts related to the donpyo.

Meanwhile, North Koreans are still shunning the donpyo despite the illustrative crackdowns and punishments.

The source said people try to hold onto currencies such as dollars and yuan because they cannot trust the local currency. In short, nobody trusts donpyo, which many believe could simply disappear at any time.

Another source told Daily NK that donpyo are troublesome to use since, once obtaining them, you need to exchange them again. He asked, “Who would want to use them when they are such a pain for both buyer and seller?”

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

Because the vouchers were issued in KPW 5,000 denominations only, people cannot receive change when purchasing items that cost less than KPW 5,000, or items not priced at multiples of KPW 5,000.

All in all, the public has apparently greeted the donpyo with little enthusiasm, complaining that they are inconvenient and that money is lost using them. 

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

Given that the authorities gave the donpyo a thumbs up during the recent plenary meeting, attention now turns to whether lawmakers will discuss a budget for the vouchers during the Supreme People’s Assembly session scheduled for next month.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.