Exorbitant bribes paid for Party membership in North Korea

The fifth meeting of North Korea’s 13th Supreme People’s Assembly in 207. Image: Rodong Sinmun

The number of bribes being accepted in exchange for membership in North Korea’s Workers’ Party is on the rise as the country is set to commemorate the Party’s establishment on October 10, sources in Ryanggang Province report.

“There are a lot of cases now where people are able to buy Party membership under the guise of ‘contributing to the country,’” said a Ryanggang Province-based source on October 5. “One man in his early 40s who lives in Paekam County gave three pigs and two tons of corn to a government official and is now scheduled to become a Party member on October 10.”

The source continued, saying, “The man received a certificate confirming that he was an ‘absolute patriot’ and received an order from the provincial Party office to prepare for his entrance into the Party,” later adding, “There has been a unit meeting held to judge whether he has the character appropriate for a Party member and has even received a ‘candidate Party member’ card.”

According to a separate source in Ryanggang Province, the individual in question made a fortune from the spread of marketization in the country but had been unfulfilled emotionally because of his poor “songbun,” or social status. He had been unable to feel he had “made it” in life due to his failure to become a Party member.

The title of “Party member” would allow him to become a “real person” in his eyes. However, the barriers he faced due to his social status were higher than expected and he had even failed to attain the position of “work unit manager” (the lowest level manager at a cooperative farm).

He had also been unlucky. The quota for Party hopefuls was small and there were more times in which no one from his village was selected to become a Party member. This indicates how difficult it is for someone with poor songbun to become a Party member.

While the practice of paying bribes to “purchase” a Party member card has long been prevalent, this particular man was unable to understand this reality [of buying such a card]. Then he reportedly received a proposal from a Party official who had been collecting money to prepare for October 10, the day commemorating the establishment of the WPK.

“The man had only spent his energy earning money and seemed not to know how the world really worked [in terms of Party membership],” the initial source told Daily NK. “He soon realized that money opened every door to the things he wanted in life.”

The three pigs and two tons of corn that he gave to the government official is equal to around 500 US dollars, taking into account the price of commodities in North Korea’s markets.

The additional source also noted that “500 dollars is a lot of money in the farms, although not so much in the cities, perhaps,” and that “the man likely needed a lot of courage [to do this].”

A defector from Pyongyang who left the country in 2000 told Daily NK on condition of anonymity, “Party membership went for 300 US dollars in the 1990s, and that amount could buy more than two tons of rice. The bribe amount decreased by the 2000s and now they have reached really low levels.”

“If the man gave 500 dollars, it doesn’t seem like he really knows how things have changed,” the defector added. “A smart Party official likely understood the man’s desire to become a Party member and made the proposal with the aim of taking advantage of his ignorance.”

Reports suggest that most North Koreans generally avoid becoming Party members. Party members are not as free as non-Party members to conduct business activities, and individual enterprises tend to avoid hiring Party members as a result.

While the perception has spread that there is “no need” to become a Party member, as this man’s case shows, there are still some North Koreans who want to obtain membership for the chance to “find success as a Party official” and for the “honor” and “status” the title provides them.