The Yomiuri ShimbunCan the Finance Ministry regain the public trust it has lost? The ministry can be said to bear a heavy burden of preventing itself from repeating such a scandal.
In connection with the ministry’s alteration of documents related to approval of the sale of state-owned land to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen, the ministry announced the result of its internal probe and punishments for officials involved in the scandal.
The ministry has acknowledged that Nobuhisa Sagawa, then Financial Bureau chief at the Finance Ministry and former commissioner of the National Tax Agency, had effectively given the direction for the documents to be tampered with. The ministry said Sagawa merited punishment equivalent to three months’ suspension from duty, with his retirement benefits reduced. Including the director of the Planning and Administration Division of the Financial Bureau, who was punished with one month’s suspension from duty, a total of 20 officials have been slapped with disciplinary measures such as pay cuts or reprimands.
Finance Minister Taro Aso will voluntarily return his compensation as a Cabinet member for one year, to make clear his supervisory responsibility.
This is the most serious scandal since the Finance Ministry, then with a different Japanese name [prior to the reorganization of government ministries and agencies], was disgraced in an entertainment-related scandal involving its officials in 1998. It is reasonable for the ministry to implement large-scale punishment.
In his replies to questions before the Diet, Sagawa denied any involvement by politicians in the land sale in question and declared that documentary records of negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen had been discarded. The documents related to approval of the land sale had carried the name of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wife, Akie, as well as those of several politicians, but Sagawa and other senior officials had those names in the documents deleted.
Abe should show leadership
In his reply to a question before the Diet, the prime minister said he would resign his position if he and his wife had been involved in the land deal. It is unavoidable for some to see that some consideration for this reply by the prime minister has been behind the discarding and manipulation of the documents.
What is important is that the Finance Ministry fully assume its accountability for various doubts harbored by the public.
Aso said, “Document alterations were not made routinely at the ministry overall,” thus indicating his opinion that the manipulation was not conducted systematically.
The plan of action for scrapping and falsifying the documents was conveyed from the top official of the Financial Bureau to senior officials and then to ordinary officials, and implemented. If such an act is not considered to have been carried out systematically, then what can this be possibly called? Aso should alter his perception.
In addition to the demands from opposition parties, there are also calls from within the ruling parties for Aso to clarify his political responsibility. If Aso remains in his post, he must take the lead in making efforts to reform the organizational climate of the ministry.
As measures to prevent a recurrence, the ministry has proposed such steps as the proper management of documents and improving arrangements for internal control. It is necessary to implement these measures promptly.
Japan’s fiscal situation is tight and there is no time to waste in reforming it. It is troubling that the ministry, which should be a spearhead to promote such reform, is in such a mess. It will not be able to win public understanding for measures that will weigh on them, such as curbs in social security benefits and an increase in the consumption tax rate.
Abe said he keenly feels his responsibility as head of the government. The prime minister should exercise his leadership in such tasks as thoroughly promulgating moral awareness among government employees.