Saturday, November 17, 2007

Even former public servants still can't be trusted... much as folks marking time in retail outlets.

The other day the ever-productive Japan Observer posted up "The state is less dependable than a convenience store," a fine review of an essay in Chūō Kōron by Minister for Health, Labour and Welfare Masuzoe Yōichi.

So impressed at the Observer's work were the good gentlemen of Trans Pacific Radio that they turned around and included a mention of the article in one of their broadcasts.

(Sound of one eyebrow, raised.)

Anyway, as the Japan Observer explains:

The title of his article — which I've borrowed for the title of this post — is based on the idea that somehow banks, post offices, and convenience stores manage to handle the transfer of funds without problems, but the national and local governments cannot transfer social security payments without embezzlement.

It is these repeated incidents of less than exemplary accounting practices and cash management in the ministries which make the rigamarole one has to go through in order to pay the entrance fee to the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University all the more hilariously over the top.

At the entrance to the gardens is a guardhouose where the garden's keepers collect your tickets.

But can they sell you tickets?


No, a forest of signs directs you 30 meters away across the narrow lane fronting the entranceway to the local tobacconist. At the sliding window of the tobacconist's you pay the still-surly-after-all-these-years obāchan your 330 yen entrance fee (110 for children) .

You then go back across the lane to the guardhouse and hand the attendant the ticket.

Why not just buy your tickets at the guardhouse? seems that until 2004, when the national universities were reorganized as non-profits under the National University Corporation, the attendants were public servants...which meant, for some reason, they could not be trusted with collecting the 330 yen entrance fee.

It had something to do with handling change.

Now, there is no problem with city employees or even volunteers collecting entrance fees at the city parks. The national universities, however...

[Hmmm, come to think of it at the courthouses you have to go the baiten to buy the revenue stamps...and at Immigration out on that ridiculously hard-to-get-to island out in the bay, you have to go the convenience store on the first floor...)

Anyway, that was then. This is now. It should be possible, given that the garden's keepers are no longer tarred with the black brush of national public service, they could be trusted with the 330 yen entrance fee.

But they're not.

If you have never been to the Botanical Gardens, please go. They are verging on down at the heel in parts--Tōdai should be putting a little more money into them, methinks--but they remain a wonderful retreat from the city.

Original Building of the Faculty of Medicine, Tokyo University
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Somei Yoshino Prunus X yedoensis
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Dahlia imperialis
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Sotetsu Cycas revoluta thunbergii
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens of Tokyo University
Bunkyō-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
November 17, 2007

Here is information on the Botanical Gardens in English and 日本語.


Jan Moren said...

As a wild guess, I think this "No handling of money" is not about not entrusting officials with money. I think it's actually connected to the no-competition rules which forbids state-owned entities from competing with private enterprises in any way. I work at a state-funded research institute and the effects of these rules can become quite bizarre.

My guess is that actually handling money means you're depriving a private company (a tobacco shop, convenience store) from revenue, so you have to outsource that function.

Anonymous said...

Janne, this may be horribly naive, but by that logic wouldn't something like, say, the Post Office's EMS service (set up to directly compete with Kuro Neko's services) or pretty much any other government service also be in violation of such rules?

The tobacconist who sells tickets to the Botanical Gardens also sells products manufactured by Japan Tobacco, majority-owned by the Japanese government, which competes directly with a few private enterprises in both tobacco and soft drinks.

Jan Moren said...

Garrett, that's a good question. I can imagine that those are holdovers from before such laws existed; tobacco has been a monopoly or heavily restricted trading in most countries for literally centuries (for the tax revenues as well as its weight in trade), and mail delivery has been a government function in most countries as well since it was the primary means of communication and thus a critical piece of infrastructure.

They can do what they do because they've always done it, in other words. Like tobacco itself in a way - it wouldn't stand the shadow of a chance to get approval for sale today (it'd end up on the same narcotics list as marijuana and be considered worse than kat or betelnut), but since we've had it for so long there's a sort of implied exception for it.

And in fact, one reason given for the privatization of JP is that it had an unfair advantage over its private counterparts - not just the Kuroneko's of this world, but also in savings, insurance and so on.

Of course, with the rather confused and negative reaction from banks and other competing companies once the privatization plans firmed up I rather suspect that they had been making noise about it to get more restrictions imposed on JP and force it to outsource functions to them, and not actually create a couple of private entities including the single largest bank in the world.