Ordinary North Koreans are lucky to earn US$30 a month, but senior state officials easily make more than $100 a day from endemic corruption, a survey shows.
The Chosun Ilbo and Center for Cultural Unification Studies interviewed 100 North Koreans living in the Chinese border areas of Dandong and Yanji earlier this year.
Ninety-eight of them said there is a huge gap between the rich and poor in North Korea. The North Koreans said the collapse of the state rationing system and growth of the black economy have enabled those in power and successful traders to amass fortunes, while ordinary people who have been unable to adjust to these changes often barely have enough to eat.
◆ Income Gap
One woman from Pyongyang said "Ordinary people only make around $30 a month, while upper class people earn $100 a day. Ten percent of the public is rich, 10 percent are middle class and almost 80 percent are poor."
The majority said that the gap is most apparent when it comes to the bare necessities. "Poor people can barely afford to buy new shoes no matter how hard they work and don't have the money to buy pork, which costs W30,000 per kilogram," a woman from North Pyongan Province said.
But senior officials grow fat on bribes. One man from South Pyongan Province said, "Party officials only care about making money. If a person becomes a party official, his children can grow rich without having to work."
Food aid provided by the UN usually ends up in the hands of party and military officials. Forty-three of the North Koreans who took part in the survey said party officials wield the greatest power in the North, and 41 percent said party officials in charge of overseeing Pyongyang's overseas businesses are the most powerful. Sixteen pointed to military officers.
◆ Regional Gap
North Korea's Hwanghae Province on the impregnable border with South Korea is said to be at least half a century behind Sinuiju bordering China in the North. One person from Sinuiju said "People who live in Sinuiju are much more familiar with the outside world."
Another man from Hwanghae Province described the difference between the two regions as "like night and day." "After we supply crops to Pyongyang, we end up starving," he added.
◆ Rampant Bribery
The North Koreans said corruption is endemic in their country, and party officials have to be bribed in order to get anything done. Ninety admitted they have had to bribe a party official, and only 10 claimed they have not.
The preferred bribes are cash or cigarettes. One person from Sinuiju said, "We have to pay between W20,000 and W100,000 in bribes to get a single travel pass. There are 12 checkpoints from Sinuiju to another area 50 km away, and we have to pay up at each one."
A North Korean apparently needs to pay between US$300 and $1,000 in bribes for permission to go to China to make money. North Koreans also pay bribes to get their children stationed in better positions in the military.
Poor people are resorting to drinking a bowl of soy sauce so they fail the health test ahead of conscription, because it makes the liver appear bloated.