The Yomiuri Shimbun The latest case of altering documents is an example of thoughtless conduct that damages people’s trust in public administration. The Finance Ministry must uncover the whole truth of the case and do its utmost to rebuild its organization.
Regarding the sale of a plot of state-owned land to the Moritomo Gakuen school corporation, the ministry has acknowledged that documents related to the sale’s approval were rewritten.
The case concerns a total of 14 documents prepared by the ministry’s Kinki Local Finance Bureau in connection with the land lease contract concluded in 2015 and the sales contract signed in 2016. These documents were found to have been rewritten after the problem came to light last year, at the initiative of the ministry’s Financial Bureau. Later, copies of the rewritten papers were shown to Diet members. The Finance Ministry must bear a heavy responsibility for insulting the Diet.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized, saying: “[This case] could shake trust in the government as a whole. I’m keenly aware of my responsibility.”
A number of descriptions were deleted from the original documents, such as an “exceptional matter” and “at the request of [Moritomo] Gakuen, talks were held over the price and other matters.”
When former National Tax Agency Commissioner Nobuhisa Sagawa was director general of the Financial Bureau, he told the Diet that there were no price negotiations with the school corporation. It is said that consistency must be ensured regarding his replies to the Diet and the documents. The Finance Ministry’s low awareness of adherence to rules is too much to tolerate.
Given his repeated distortion of facts when answering questions in the legislature, there was every reason for Sagawa to resign and receive disciplinary punishment. The prime minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso must deeply take to heart their responsibility regarding Sagawa’s appointment to a senior position in the ministry.
Investigate culprit, motives
Aso denied that an organization-wide attempt had been made to rewrite the documents, saying, “[The misconduct] was committed by certain Financial Bureau personnel.”
It is necessary to investigate when instructions were issued for the documents to be rewritten and by whom, as well as the details of the motive behind the misconduct. It is essential to clarify where the responsibility lies, and this must be followed by measures to punish those connected to the irregularities and to work out preventive steps.
The price of the land sold to Moritomo Gakuen was reduced by about ¥800 million from its appraisal value. The Board of Audit has raised doubts about the grounds for the price reduction.
The pre-alteration documents included such content as the fact that a secretary for Yoshitada Konoike of the Liberal Democratic Party, a former disaster management minister, made an inquiry at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau. There was also a comment made by a secretary for former Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma to the effect that the lease fees for the land were too high.
Opposition parties suspect the approaches made by the politicians may have led to the price reduction. The government should offer convincing explanations.
Another figure in the case is Akie Abe, the wife of the prime minister, who was initially scheduled to installed as honorary headmaster of a Moritomo-affiliated elementary school. Although the documents included no content indicative of her direct involvement in the land deal, references to her on-site inspection and others were erased.
The government earlier decided to preserve all administrative documents that serve as records of policy-planning discussions and negotiations with external entities, effective next fiscal year.
It is indispensable for each government ministry and agency to reconsider how it should manage and preserve administrative documents and make full efforts in this respect.