North Korean authorities have reportedly organized inspection teams to ensure the smooth distribution of money vouchers, or donpyo. Ostensibly, their job is to encourage locals to regard donpyo as ordinary currency, but punishments of money changers and merchants reluctant to accept vouchers will likely follow “to set an example.”

According to a source in Pyongyang on Thursday, the authorities organized a “unified command to normalize the distribution of donpyo” in the capital on Tuesday, with subordinate “groups” organized in each province. Each provincial group is reportedly composed of cadres from the Organization and Guidance Department of the provincial party, the currency section of the provincial people’s committee, and provincial branches of the Ministry of Social Security, Ministry of State Security and prosecutors’ office.

The source said the groups’ main duty is to encourage locals to regard donpyo as currency and promote their smooth distribution. 

North Korean authorities organized inspection teams to normalize distribution of the donpyo because locals do not recognize the vouchers as ordinary currency, and because market merchants and service bodies are treating KPW 5,000 donpyo as if they were worth just KPW 2,500 or KPW 3,000.

Accordingly, the newly organized groups will reportedly go around places where donpyo are in distribution to check whether businesses are refusing the vouchers or treating them less than their face value.

A picture of the foreign currency vouchers currently in circulation in North Korea. / Image: Daily NK

There was a recent incident at a market in Pyongyang’s Sosong District in which a money changer refused a request by an employee of the financial section of a particular enterprise to change donpyo for foreign currency. Ultimately, the money changer exchanged the vouchers at a rate of KPW 2,500 for each KPW 5,000 voucher, but he was arrested by police after they were called to the scene.

The incident suggests that North Korean authorities are paying enterprises that need state funds in donpyo rather than cash, and that those enterprises are putting money together by changing the vouchers into foreign or local currency through money changers.

The source said that the financial sections of enterprises are also trying to get rid of their donpyo as quickly as they can by immediately exchanging them or depositing them in banks. This suggests just how little faith locals have in the vouchers.

Meanwhile, the groups will reportedly focus their efforts on improving the public image of the donpyo, even as they crack down on rumors about the vouchers and businesses that refuse to change or accept them.

The source said the authorities do not believe locals will voluntarily use the donpyo if they start by “strongly making examples” of people. He said the party ordered that educational efforts to teach the principles behind the donpyo should be prioritized over forcing people to use the vouchers.

To do this, it appears the groups will distribute “political education materials” about the donpyo and actively begin efforts to ideologically educate the public.

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Seulkee Jang
Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean economic and diplomatic issues, including workers dispatched abroad. Jang has a M.A. in Sociology from University of North Korean Studies and a B.A. in Sociology from Yonsei University. She can be reached at skjang(at)