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Editorial: Was discount sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen made appropriately?

  • February 28, 2017
  • , The Japan News , 8:40 pm
  • English Press

It was a highly murky sale of state-owned land.


It has been found that a tract of state-owned land in Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, was sold to an educational corporation at a price far lower than its appraisal value. This issue has also been taken up for debate at the Diet day after day.


The 8,770-square-meter tract of land was under the management of the West Japan Civil Aviation Bureau of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. The land, which the Kinki Local Finance Bureau of the Finance Ministry publicly offered for sale, was sold in June last year to private school operator Moritomo Gakuen for ¥134 million as a site to build an elementary school.


The value assessed by a real estate appraiser was ¥956 million. As concrete blocks, scrap and other waste materials were found buried beneath the land, the selling price was said to have been lowered from the originally assessed value by more than ¥800 million to account for the removal cost.


Called into question is that it remains unknown whether the removal and disposal work, corresponding to the estimated cost, was actually carried out or not.


The school operator’s side, in response to an inquiry by The Yomiuri Shimbun, explained: “The waste located at the sites where piles are to be driven was removed. But waste other than that has not been removed.” The suspicion that the estimated removal cost was excessive cannot be dismissed.


Also questionable is that the civil aviation bureau, at the request of the local finance bureau, quoted the removal cost directly, with no mediation by experts. The Finance Ministry asserts that the removal cost “was appropriate,” but it has yet to give any convincing explanation with regard to the basis of the calculation.


Ministries must explain


The Board of Audit has indicated a policy that it “will examine the case from multiple angles, including its economic rationality.” Strict examination is called for. Both the finance and land ministries should properly explain how the sale of the land was made.


Opposition parties have questioned the relations between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife, Akie, and Moritomo Gakuen.


Akie was scheduled to assume the post of an honorary principal of this school. On a website of Moritomo Gakuen, her photo and her greetings had been carried.


After this issue became regarded as problematic in the Diet, she declined to become honorary principal, but she had undeniably been off her guard.


The Moritomo Gakuen side had also collected donations by calling the elementary school the “Shinzo Abe Commemorative Elementary School.” About the fact that his name was used, Abe said in the Diet that: “I strongly protested [to the school].”


He also asserted: “I and my wife had no involvement whatsoever in the sale of the state-owned land and the approval to open the elementary school. If there is any involvement, I will resign as prime minister and as a legislator.”


Various business operators commonly approach politicians and their families in attempts to make use of the titles of their positions. This can include cases in which they expect special favors. Studious care is needed so as not to invite any suspicion.


At a meeting of an Osaka prefectural council on private schools, which discussed whether to give the school official approval, there were voices of concern raised regarding the educational policy and the state of financial affairs of Moritomo Gakuen. In order to minimize adverse impacts on children, the controversy concerning the approval of the school opening should be settled soon.

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