North Korean authorities recently created a new nationwide organization to monitor and crack down on the illegal hoarding of food and price gouging by food sellers. This development comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un discussed the country’s “food problems” during the Third Plenary Session of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party in mid-June.

A Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province reported yesterday that the new organization – officially named the “June 17 Task Force” – launched its activities on June 25. The new organization’s name indicates that it has been created on a “temporary basis.”

Branches of the new organization were formed in North Korea’s provinces, cities, and counties by June 24, and local party secretaries were appointed as the heads of the organization’s branches.

Members of local party committees, Ministry of Social Security offices, Justice Department offices, and Socialist Women’s Union of Korea branches fill out the new organization’s ranks.

Up until this point, North Korean authorities have used Ministry of Social Security officers and disciplinary units made up of local people to monitor and crack down on food-related issues in the country.

Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
Market official on patrol in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

However, Ministry of Social Security and disciplinary units have not always been particularly effective in monitoring and cracking down on large-scale purchases of food by members of the donju – North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class – and food wholesalers. These officers and units have frequently been involved in corruption, including being susceptible to bribes and turning a blind eye to illegal activity for various reasons (such as “school ties”).

According to the source, the new organization’s significance rests on the fact that various party and government officials have been tasked with dealing directly with the country’s “food-related problems.”

One of the reasons for the creation of the new organization appears to be the fluctuation of food prices in recent months. North Korean authorities may believe that they have to tackle this issue because the stability of food prices and the regime’s stability are closely interlinked.

The authorities may also believe they need to spread fear among members of the donju and various business people in the markets. The leadership may think that public sentiment could quickly plummet if these groups refuse to sell rice with a view to sell off their stock later when prices rise.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly given the June 17 Task Force the right to use “wartime law” to deal with people caught by the organization. In short, anyone caught hoarding large amounts of food could face the maximum punishment of execution, depending on the seriousness of their infraction.

“The June 17 Task Force began full-fledged operations from June 25,” the source said. “Each unit is made up of 3-4 people, who go around markets and the houses of food wholesalers at random to monitor and crack down [on illegal activities].”

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