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2009年2月 2日 (月)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 31(IHT/Asahi: February 2,2009)

EDITORIAL: Sale of Japan Post's inns


Japan Post Holdings Co. has announced a temporary freeze on the sale of its 70 "Kanpo no Yado" inns and nine other properties to Orix Real Estate Corp. Japan Post has said the sale will be reviewed by an independent committee of lawyers, certified public accountants and other outside experts.


The case against the sale made by Kunio Hatoyama, minister of internal affairs and communications, is less than convincing, and apparently lacks a solid basis in fact. If Japan Post insists the bidding was fair, however, it must prove it by conducting a thorough investigation into the matter and publishing the results.


Hatoyama's criticism of the deal has provoked suspicion among the public about the deal. The questions center on the fact that the 79 properties--acquired and built at a cost of 240 billion yen--would be sold for only 10.9 billion yen.


This is indeed a huge loss. But this entire issue must be thought out carefully.


Since the collapse of Japan's economic bubble in the late 1980s, land prices have fallen steadily. It's common knowledge that the price of a piece of commercial property is determined by the amount of profit the land is expected to generate.


Only 11 of the 79 facilities to be sold are in the black. As a whole, they are losing 4 to 5 billion yen every year.


Nevertheless, the buyer is required to continue to employ the 3,200 regular and non-regular workers at the facilities.


All this was part of the conditions set for the bidding for these inns and other properties.


If so, it is not particularly surprising that the selling price was much lower than the total original investment.


In addition, there is virtually no possibility of a sharp upswing in land prices any time soon. That means a delay in the sale of these assets will further increase the losses for Japan Post.


What kind of price is reasonable for these properties, then? Even experts would come up with different estimates.


The fact is that open bidding was held for the sale of the properties to the highest bidder. Even if the highest bid seems low, it must be accepted as the market's evaluation of the properties at the moment.


Anyone who claims they could be sold at a higher price must come up with a buyer willing to pay such a price.


Where does the responsibility for the enormous loss rest? The fault clearly lies with lax management by the government-affiliated business which poured money collected through postal savings and insurance services into projects to build these facilities without considering their profit prospects. The politicians who lobbied to have these facilities built in their electoral districts also share the blame.


Hatoyama needs to look at the complete picture, including the points we have just mentioned.


Our argument, of course, is based on the assumption that the bidding was held in a proper manner. It would be a different story if there were irregularities like bid-rigging or procedural problems.


While answering questions about the issue at the Diet, Hatoyama on Friday expressed doubts about the fairness of the bidding. Now, he needs to be more specific about his criticism of the process.


Since he is the minister in charge of supervising Japan Post, he cannot simply say he has doubts concerning the sale without due deliberation.


The way Japan Post has dealt with the matter also raises serious questions. Even after criticism of the sale emerged, the company didn't try to provide adequate information about the bidding, increasing public concern.


Japan Post appears to be becoming a more inward-looking organization, unwilling to disclose information about its management. There are disturbing signs of a revival of the old government-business culture at the entity.


This is undermining the leadership of the management team. Japan Post should take this opportunity to renew its commitment to a new identity as a private-sector company.



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