Privatization of Postal Services has Failed Worldwide

by Kobo Inamura
President, Tokyo Gijuku
Former Vice Chairman, Japan Post

In 2005, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi dissolved Japan’s House of Representatives, dissatisfied with the rejection by the House of Councillors of the bill to privatize Japan’s postal services. In the sensational election that ensued, which saw Koizumi field “assassin candidates” such as Takafumi Horie to defeat Shizuka Kamei, Yuriko Koike to bring down Koki Kobayashi, Kyoko Nishikawa to defeat Shozaburo Jimi and others, the Prime Minister pulled off a landslide victory.
On the day that the postal privatization bill overcame the earlier rejection to be passed into law by the House of Representatives, I was attending a symposium in New York sponsored by the Japan Society (subsequent to stepping down from Japan Post).
With this coming directly after I had spoken out in opposition of the privatization plan, a local securities brokerage analyst approached me with the following verbal abuse: “Are you Mr. Inamura? Your resistance will keep us from making a profit. Forget about waiting 10 years to sell! Release the stocks as soon as possible and get lost from here!” After returning to my hotel room, I actually double-checked to make sure that the door was locked.
In October 2007, Japan Post, a government-run public company, was partitioned and privatized in being launched as five joint stock companies, including Japan Post Holdings Co., Ltd. Touted as the keynote theme of the privatization of these postal services was the transfer and more effective use of the postal savings and postal life insurance, which ranked as the world’s largest scale national assets, “from the public to the private sector.” In reality, however, I figured this as a scheme to ferry those assets overseas in speculative fashion, effectively moving profits offshore.
The “divine wind” of the change in political administrations blowing thereafter, with the Komeito party leading a three-party consensus to slam the brakes on the sell-off policy, was an unexpected stroke of good fortune. If the shares had been sold off early, in keeping with the course of action advocated by Heizo Takenaka, then State Minister in Charge of Postal Service Privatization in the Koizumi administration, those public assets would have been carried overseas. That would have made it impossible to escape the impact of the “Lehman shock” global financial crisis that struck soon after. If this scenario had come to pass, I feel the outcome would have been a national disaster literally akin to the destruction of Japan.
Takenaka offers the following explanation: “The slump in the postal business is attributable to market downsizing with the proliferation of smartphones, the Internet and other technology.” I would say, however, that the true reasons include the stubborn pursuit of short-term profit while failing to push forward with progressive capital investment capable of pioneering the era.
After purchasing Australian logistics company the year before last, Japan Post, less than two years later, reported public losses of some 400 billion yen this March. This debacle prompted me to join with Hidehiro Kikuchi in submitting a joint recommendation that the top management resign to assume responsibility, but never heard back from them.
The company somehow managed to transform its superior state-run enterprise, which generated high profits back in the days when Japan Post was a public company, into an inferior business running a red ink bottom line. This is clear testimony to the collapse of the postal service privatization vision. What’s needed now is swift action to revamp the management format of Japan Post.
Declares Takenaka: “With the privatization of the postal savings, it became possible to make transfers from private banks.” However, the Yucho Card (postal savings card) back in the days of government run postal services was a global standard truly recognized worldwide, offering convenience above and beyond that of private banks.
The September 30 edition of the Sankei Shimbun newspaper carried a article in which Takenaka, now a professor emeritus at Keio University, makes the following claim: “Postal services is an incredible growth sector overseas as well. The government needs to sell off its stocks as soon as possible to allow corporate acquisitions to be advanced at will.” This comment reveals a total dearth of sound judgment, skipping over any mention of massive losses.
It is difficult to accept the pretentious publication of the opinions of a single globalist, also the ringleader of the structure (overhaul for the worse) of postal services privatization, as an article from a newspaper publisher professing to lean conservative.
Comments such as “It is important to become a complete private company. Because the presence of a tacit government guarantee will have an impact on private enterprise, unfettered management will be rendered impossible” are widely off the mark. Privatization in which assets end up being absconded overseas will amount to nothing.
For that matter, there is no example of any postal services business that has triumphed with privatization anywhere in the world.
Although Germany temporarily privatized its postal sector, the Chairman of Deutsche Post was arrested for channeling funds overseas and forced to resign. Today, legal intervention continues in an attempt to halt the rapid decline in the number of post offices in that nation.
In the United States postal services are under government management, with absolutely no calls for privatization. In the Netherlands, the true embodiment of privatization, the situation continues to wander about in a continued state of confusion,
New Zealand declined into a state of inconvenience for its savings system when privatization of its postal service led to those savings being sold to foreign capital. This prompted the launch of Kiwibank as a government-controlled savings institution.
Switzerland is fundamentally opposed to privatization, and in the past officials there invited me to appear as an affirmed opponent of that practice.
Surfacing in Europe, therefore, has been a steady stream of the evils of postal privatization, with the privatization of Japan’s postal services also qualifying as a huge failure even when viewed globally.
For some reason, the newspaper that carried the views of Heizo Takenaka omitted from his profile the post as “Chairman of Persona” (the temporary staffing agency). I can only speculate why the decision was made to not list the job title at a company that reaps rich profits from irregular employment – a labor system viewed as abhorrent in Western Europe.
Some 40 years after the Lockheed payoff scandal was exposed, an outline of the truth finally came to light. I feel confident that sometime in the future, the day will arrive in which the darkness of postal services privatization will also be illuminated.
At times, I engage in wild fancies. For example, the idea that perhaps the privatization of Japan’s postal services was a scheme hatched in the midst of the honeymoon relationship, also describable as the U.S.-Sino Economic Alliance during the Obama administration, to provide a source of funding to promote introduction of a new nuclear reactor by Westinghouse.

source: “Compuss to the future” in the November number of Monthly Japan(Gekkan-Nippon).