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UPDATED: November 1, 2010 NO. 44 NOVEMBER 4, 2010
Lost and Found: For Free or For a Fee?

As the staff of the company in Nanjing say, they have put in hard work and the original owners have their lost property back, which is a win-win result. Financial reward is a direct reflection of the value of one's hard work, which has nothing to do with traditional morality. The existence of commercial lost-and-found property companies makes sense, as long as they are well managed and regulated of course—in case of the possibility of disposal of stolen goods.

Transgressing morality

Cong Xiaobo (www.workercn.cn): The emergence of commercial lost-and-found property companies is convenient for careless people. But we can't allow it just because of its convenience. These companies don't meet existing criteria for business licensing and could easily destroy public order.

If we let them develop in an uncontrolled way, the most direct disadvantage is the companies can easily take advantage of the initiative of people who pick up lost property so as to make profits and damage social fairness and justice. For example, if a company takes lost property without giving out information about it or contacting the original owner, nobody can do anything about it.

Meanwhile, because of many uncertain factors in the lost-and-found process, these companies' accounts can be very obscure, which will hinder taxation regulations. Maybe a company becomes very profitable but has little money in an account.

"Not pocketing the money one picks up" is a traditional virtue of Chinese people. A commercial lost-and-found property company is actually violation of the concept, which has a great impact on the moral system of the whole of society.

The emergence of commercial lost-and-found property companies reflects absence of public service in this area. It's the government's obligation to take quick action.

Ye Kuo (Qingdao News): Recently, profit is being mentioned everywhere. The deterioration of morality has become a horrible trend. Some people are consciously or unconsciously impacting and eroding the bottom line of morality little by little. This damage may be inconspicuous initially. But after a while, chronic social effects will result, causing the collapse of the system of morality. We can say in a society where morality and rules have been severely affronted, political and social crises will begin and occur in sequence.

Luo Lijun (Yangzi Evening News): The Property Law says in Article 112, "The right holder of the object, when obtaining a lost-and-found object, shall pay the person who finds the object or the relevant department such necessary expenses as the cost for safekeeping the object." Also Article 111 of the law says, "The person who finds the object shall properly keep it before it is handed over to the relevant department, and the relevant department also shall do so before it is claimed by the right holder." Based on that, people who find lost property, for instance the dustmen, have the obligation to keep it properly, and therefore the owners of lost property may give them a financial reward. But a lost-and-found property company is not the one who finds the lost property, nor is it a relevant department. Profits it makes by acting as an agency for the transfer of lost property from the finder to the original owner is ill-gotten gain.

Liu Yikun (Beijing Youth Daily): In real life, although there are lost-and-found property offices in police stations and many public places, these agencies are separately administered. So it's hard for them to find owners of lost property through joint efforts. This may be the rationale for a commercial company. But commercial lost-and-found property companies are apparently not conducive to the continuation of the traditional virtue of "not pocketing money one picks up."

German law regulates if an item has been kept in a lost-and-found office for six months and hasn't been claimed, staff will contact people who found it about whether they have an interest in claiming it. If not, the item will be auctioned. It's also stipulated, finders of items worth more than a specified amount can have at least 5 percent of its value as a reward. But the fact is many people refuse this reward. We can see this pattern is not only effective and convenient but also is helpful in advocating a good atmosphere of mutual help. If this pattern can be widely disseminated in China, disputes about commercial lost-and-found property companies will no longer exist.

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