VOX POPULI: Finance Ministry scandal now greater than the sum of its parts

VOX POPULI: Finance Ministry scandal now greater than the sum of its parts

“Dirty Hand” was the name of a course I once took at a university in the United States.

Tailored for students aspiring for a career in civil service or law, the course prepared them for situations where they will be forced to make tough calls between professional integrity and unethical conduct that verge on breaking the law.

The professor regaled the students with real-life examples of such situations and engaged them in heated debate.

I recalled this course of more than 20 years ago upon reading 14 official documents released by the Finance Ministry concerning the Moritomo Gakuen scandal.

Alterations had been made in every one of those documents, suggesting the ministry must have expended a great deal of time and energy. The extensive doctoring definitely went beyond mere “rewriting.”

The documents named 10 politicians. Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was mentioned five times. Throughout Diet deliberations last year, all questions about her role in the scandal were brushed aside on the premise that she was a “private citizen.”

But obviously, that was not how the Finance Ministry perceived the first lady. It appears that the ministry was under great pressure to treat her as the prime minister’s deputy–as public a figure as anyone could ever be.

What impressed me most about these documents, totaling 78 pages, was the painstaking thoroughness with which every trail leading to Akie Abe and the politicians and their secretaries, who figured prominently in the shady land transaction, was erased from the documents.

As a result, the documents became outwardly free of falsehood, but full of lies in substance. The professor of the “Dirty Hand” course would have found this a perfect example to cite.

Looking back on the Diet deliberations, the Finance Ministry initially tried to weasel out of the mess by claiming the documents had been discarded. Later, the ministry changed its tune, saying it could not interfere with the investigations being conducted by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office.

With such statements from the bureaucrats, the Diet was being treated with contempt for a full year since last spring. And by extension, we, the voting public, were also being belittled through our elected representatives.

This has turned out to be a scandal of unprecedented magnitude.

–The Asahi Shimbun, March 13

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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