A cleaner receives a cheque of $54500 instead of $545 and proceeds to spend almost all of it. He is jailed for five months. This is legally correct - section 403 of the Penal Code, with its many illustrations, clearly criminalizes the appropriation of the property of others.
Judging from the comments on Stomp’s Facebook page, however, the moral dimension may not be so clear. While most people agreed that his act was criminal, a minority felt that he was not to blame as the money was foisted outright upon him, and that therefore the paying company was at fault.
Some also took issue with Mr Ramesh Tiwary’s analogy: “If you find $1000 on the road, you are duty-bound to return it to the police. Obviously no one threw away the $1000.” The issue here is at what point it becomes obvious that one cannot keep the money. Finding and keeping $1, $2 or even $10 is probably not going to attract criminal sanctions. What about $20? $50? Say I receive an extra $50 note in change, realise it later and decide not to return it. Should I be punished for the cashier’s carelessness? This can probably be answered only by the mysterious monster of prosecutorial discretion.
Perhaps the problem lies in Singapore’s haphazard lost and found system. There is no centralised lost and found system. Until 2009, even the police had separate lost and found sections for the six land divisions. Now they have a Centralised Found and Unclaimed Property Office, but private companies such as shopping malls and the bus, MRT and taxi operators still maintain their own systems for items found on their property, with no coordination with the police. The police keeps items for one month, after which they are auctioned off or destroyed. I think many Singaporeans feel that once we have lost something, it is lost forever.
In Japan, lost and found items for each municipality go to a central office. When an owner claims a lost item, he must pay the person who returned the item 5 to 20 percent of its value, depending on the item (for most items it is 10%). If an item is unclaimed after six months, the finder becomes the rightful owner of the item.
This robust system means that lost items are almost always reported and returned. Instead of the finders-keepers, survival-of-the-fittest mentality evident in some of the Facebook comments mentioned above, the community cooperates to find and return lost items. People who lose their things can go to a single location and almost all the time, expect to find it there, intact. The small fee is the price of a community where misplacing something does not mean sending it down a black hole, never to be seen again.