There certainly seems to be something in the air this year when it comes to local governments and losing money. A couple of months ago a 24-year-old man in Abu, Yamaguchi made headlines for accidentally receiving and then gambling away the whole town’s worth of COVID-19 benefits. Then we had the case of Miyazaki City which accidentally sent scores of lucky people an extra order of high-grade meat free of charge. There’s been more too, but we only have so many writers we can devote to these incidents.
An incident that occurred in Saiki City, Oita Prefecture, however, was more of a misunderstanding than a screw-up, but still ended up with some people, and one woman in particular, to make out like bandits.
Like many cities do, the Saiki City Commerce and Industry Promotion Division set up a stimulus scheme in which people can purchase gift certificates worth more than the price paid for them. In other words, those who spend 10,000 yen will receive 13,000 yen in certificates, provided they spend them within a certain amount of time. It’s a pretty sweet deal, so of course one household could only order a maximum of three books through a postcard application.
However, the city seemed to have overestimated demand and had 24,000 books left over from their initial supply of 60,000. So, they decided to put them out by direct sales which were outsourced to another company. This created a problem in that the company couldn’t realistically enforce the three-book limit because they couldn’t collectively remember the face of every single person coming to the counter every day.
As a result, several people were said to have simply gone back on different days to buy more than their allotted coupons. There was little the company could do about it either, so they instructed clerks to sell whatever number of books the customers ask for, which resulted in the following exchange between a customer and clerk on 30 April:
Customer: “How many books can I buy?”
Clerk: “You can buy as many as you want.”
Customer: “Is 4.4 million yen OK?”
Clerk: “It’s OK.”
Customer: “Here you go. I want to buy a car.”
The customer then handed over 4.46 million yen in gift certificates and as a result got 1,338,000 yen worth of vouchers for free. So, the “car” remark was no exaggeration.
Saiki Mayor Toshiaki Tanaka told media, “It is very disappointing that actions deviating from the rule of three books per person was carried out.” His wording seems to not point blame at any specific party, suggesting the city, company, and people all had a stake in the “disappointing actions.”
▼ A news report on the disappointed mayor’s press conference
However, the city will neither request that any of the people return any of the money nor stop them from using the certificates, instead vowing to not make the same mistake again, such as by preparing a more suitable number of books in advance.
“What’s the problem?”
“The rich get richer…”
“Hey, it’s another story of a city being stupid.”
“At first I thought she did something sneaky, but she just asked for it!”
“I’m surprised they couldn’t get rid of those things. It’s basically free money.”
“Aren’t they essentially giving one person 1.3 million yen in tax money?”
“Can you really use those at a car dealership?”
We were kind of wondering about that last question also. Much like customers, shops also must apply to participate in the scheme and any business seems free to volunteer. However, since the intended maximum amount of bonus money is only 9,000 yen it wouldn’t be very practical for car dealerships to join, except as a gesture of their community spirit.
However, after looking through the list of businesses involved in Saiki’s program there are about a dozen businesses with “Auto” in the name. Since they’re local businesses they don’t have much of an online presence but there was at least one that I could confirm sold both new and used automobiles, so she could conceivably buy a decent automobile with her certificates.
And good for her if she does. She asked and was given permission to get the coupons, and since the money to cover them had already been earmarked by the city and will go right back into the economy as planned, there’s no real loss. They just didn’t spread the wealth nearly as well as they’d intended.
By the way, if anyone in Saiki is reading this, the certificates have since been sold out, so don’t go getting any ideas.
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