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Commentary: Aso must stay in job despite Finance Ministry’s document tampering scandal

By deputy chief editor and political editor Fumito Ishibashi

 

If the lone “rebellion” of former Vice Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Kihei Maekawa was horrible, the Finance Ministry’s alteration of documents approving the sale of government-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen is even more despicable. It is not an exaggeration to say that the fact that this super-elite organization known as the “most powerful ministry” resorted to tampering documents is a matter that might shake the very foundation of the governance of the state.

 

For a while, the “cover-up of evidence” seemed to be perfect. Yet, the media continued to report on suspected document alteration. Exasperated by this situation, a Kantei official made the prosecutors submit copies of confiscated documents through the Justice Ministry. The prosecutors scrutinized the Kinki Finance Bureau’s computers and located copies of the original documents before they were overwritten. So, the game was over for the Finance Ministry; it had to admit that the documents had been altered.

 

One noteworthy point here is that the ministry behaved solely from the standpoint of protecting itself as an organization. It even deceived the Kantei and the Liberal Democratic Party. There was no indication at all of sontaku [tacit deference] and not even any desire to “protect the administration.” While the names of Mrs. Akie Abe and politicians were deleted, they were merely discarded along with the text on the negotiation process that could be detrimental to the Finance Ministry.

 

How about Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso? Based on the testimony of several senior government officials, it appears that like the Kantei, he was given false reports by the Finance Ministry bent on protecting itself.

 

There is no question that Aso must take responsibility for the supervision of the ministry. However, if he resigns over this affair, it will weaken the political leadership and the result will only benefit the bureaucracy. There are not many politicians who can control the Finance Ministry. He is also responsible for the all-important Japan-U.S. Economic Dialogue. He must remain in his job no matter how strong the adverse wind blows in order to fulfill his obligation to purge the Finance Ministry of its corruption.

 

Due to the North Korean nuclear and missile issues, tension is rising in the East Asia situation. In addition, Abenomics has yet to achieve its goals. The administration cannot afford to be rattled by a scandal involving some bureaucrats. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should exercise strong leadership in settling this issue, while at the same time offering sincere and convincing explanations to the people. If the cabinet’s responsibility is still being questioned despite such efforts, seeking a vote of confidence from the people is also an option. (Abridged)

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