The “special order” to stabilize the livelihoods of the North Korean people — signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the recent Third Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea — included directives that not only addressed food shortages, but also called for efforts to supply electricity, running water, and firewood.

However, a Daily NK source recently reported that the order amounted to little more than the government continuing to shift responsibility for supplying these necessities onto local party branches.

The source, who spoke to Daily NK yesterday on condition of anonymity, said that the special order claimed that over the next five years, the North Korean government “will become the head of the household and take charge of the people’s food, clothing, and shelter.” The special order went on to claim that, to accomplish this, “everything – including state institutions, organizational efforts, and party policies – will focus on stabilizing the lives of the people.” 

Prior to this, the Korean Central News Agency published photos of Kim holding the special order he had signed. Though Kim had previously ordered measures to stabilize the lives of the people, for the North Korean leader to do so in the form of a signed special order – and to subsequently go public with it – is quite extraordinary.

The media did not release the details of the order at the time, but the source said it included directives regarding the “normalization” of food provisions and resolving problems related to the supply of electricity, drinking water, and firewood, as well as tackling housing issues.

During the latest plenary meeting, Kim focused his comments on resolving the food issues facing the country.

On the opening day of the meeting on June 15, Kim said “the people’s food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production plan due to the damage by typhoons last year.” He then called on attending officials to take aggressive measures to resolve the problem.

Based on Daily NK’s own reporting, North Korean authorities have decided to issue rice provisions nationwide from early this month through the release of military stores.

However, rather than provide the rice for free, the authorities will apparently sell it at prices 20% to 30% lower than market prices. Accordingly, the move is more akin to expanding food provisions through state-run food stores than a free distribution of rations.

Kim Jong Un holding up a signed version of his “special order” as reported by North Korean state media on June 18, 2021. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Basically, North Korean authorities believe that by providing rice at relatively low prices, they can lessen the difficulties people face somewhat while promoting Kim’s “great interest” in the general public’s welfare.

North Korean authorities also appear to believe that by expanding food supplies they can temporarily stabilize the price of rice in the country’s markets.

However, the measure may provide little substantive help to low income households with little purchasing power or truly destitute families with neither money nor food. 

Moreover, North Korean authorities – in line with directives within the special order – reportedly ordered provincial, city, and county branches of the ruling party to repair equipment and small and mid-sized power plants, build waterways, and fix water supply facilities to improve supplies of electricity and running water.

During the recent plenary meeting, Kim said provincial party secretaries should become “mothers” and guarantee supplies of water and other services, stressing that they should take charge and resolve problems pertaining to the lives of the people in each region.

He also instructed that the conditions of electricity and running water supplies in North Korea’s approximately 200 cities be ranked and the rankings used to reward or punish the party secretaries in charge during their annual reviews.

Accordingly, North Korean authorities likely intend to improve supplies of electricity, water, and other necessities by encouraging interregional competition. Since the government aims to stabilize living conditions through “self-reliance,” however, some believe this policy has “already failed.”

“Since provincial party cadres will handle the actual provisions while the leadership just sits back and reviews, it seems like [state officials] are just passing the buck,” said the source. “There’s little in here that differs from the policies implemented up until now.”

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.