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“Suga project” and sense of entitlement led to scandals at MIC: Former minister Katayama

Yoshihiro Katayama, born in 1951, is a professor at Waseda University. Katayama entered the now-defunct Ministry of Home Affairs in 1974, served as Governor of Tottori Prefecture, and was a professor at Keio University. He was Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications under the administration of Naoto Kan. Katayama wrote a book entitled “Authenticity of Governors.”

 

Interviewed by Naoto Inagaki

 

The Asahi Shimbun: What is your take on recent scandals involving the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications?

 

Yoshihiro Katayama: When I was the minister ten years ago, government agencies were careful about accepting dinner invitations, because a scandal at the former Finance Ministry in 1998 was still very fresh in memory. In that scandal, MOF officials were charged by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office with bribery for attending dinner parties. My impression is that certain changes have taken place since ten years ago.

 

Asahi: What kind of changes?

 

Katayama: One of them is that the influence of the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Office) has grown stronger in Kasumigaseki [where a number of government agencies are located]. Traditionally, government policies originated from ministries and agencies. Since the Abe administration, however, policies have been formulated in the Kantei. Cutting mobile phone fees is a typical case. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has advocated for this since the day he was the Chief Cabinet Secretary. In the Abe administration, officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry exerted great influence. However, such matters as the cell phone fees have to be led by MIC officials. It is possible that in undertaking these “Suga projects,” the relative status of MIC has risen, causing MIC officials to develop a sense of “being above others.”

 

Asahi: Some speculate that officials with connections to the former Post and Telecommunications Ministry have more clout now that the importance of the field of information and communications has grown.

 

Katayama: That’s possible. Ten years ago, no one from the former Post and Telecommunications Ministry was swaggering around MIC. They were, if anything, more subdued than the officials with a background in the Home Affairs Ministry. The recent development in information and communications technology and the high demand for frequencies have led to the rapid ascendance of certain MIC sections that trace their roots to the former Post and Telecommunications Ministry and oversee the information and communications industry. It is likely there are companies and groups that are eager to ingratiate themselves with relevant officials through dinner parties and other means.

 

Asahi: Is it possible that the 2001 merger of the Home Affairs Ministry, the Post and Telecommunications Ministry and the Public Management Ministry to create the current mega ministry has something to do with the recent scandals?

 

Katayama: It may not be the direct cause of the scandals, but there were issues with the merger of the three ministries, in my opinion, and these exacerbated the problem. The resulting organization is far too big, making governance hard even for a capable minister who tries to supervise the entire ministry.

 

In managing a government organization, it is important that its officials share a sense of mission and purpose. However, in the case of MIC, sections historically connected to the former Post and Telecommunications Ministry specialize in information, communication, and broadcasting, while sections descended from the former Home Affairs Ministry deal with local government issues, and those with connections to the former Public Management Ministry handle issues of transparency and efficiency. In particular, the sections that originate with the Post and Telecommunications don’t interact with other sections. Even senior officials such as vice-ministers find it hard to grasp the work of sections other than those with a similar background as theirs. I am afraid MIC somewhat lacks integrity and unity as an organization.

 

Asahi: Do you detect Prime Minister Suga’s influence?

 

Katayama: Traditionally, politicians did not interfere with the broadcasting and communications sector. They kept a certain distance from broadcasting, because there is always a risk of inadvertently violating the political neutrality stipulated in the Broadcast Law. They also stayed away from communications, because this was viewed as too technical. Suga served in MIC both as minister and deputy minister, and I hear he was very much interested in both communications and broadcasting. While in the ministry, he shocked the MIC bureaucrats by seemingly demoting some officials. I imagine MIC officials don’t take him lightly.

 

Asahi: Why did MIC officials join the dinner with Tohoku Shinsha attended by Suga’s eldest son?

 

Katayama: It seems that bureaucrats nowadays are more used to attending such dinners. Ministry officials have always had opportunities to drink with politicians, who are fond of dinner parties. Some officials even brag that they were asked by Suga to dine with him. Among those who joined Suga’s son at the dinner, some might have been forced to join, while others joined willingly.

 

Asahi: In the Diet, Suga denied he had anything to do with the dinner party, saying that he is not his son.

 

Katayama: Yes, he said that. But the public doesn’t agree. The Japanese people have seen how extremely attentive MOF officials and others from Kasumigaseki had been to the wishes of former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie during the Morimoto scandal.

 

Asahi: It was discovered that not only MIC officials, but also Minister Ryota Takeda and other politicians were eating dinner with NTT employees. 

 

Katayama: There has emerged a political atmosphere where politicians feel free to bluntly repeat “I didn’t accept a dinner invitation that could raise suspicions” at the Diet without consequence. Bureaucrats repeat, “I don’t remember.” It is the case of “the fish rots from the head.” Watching Diet proceedings on television fills me with sadness.

 

The current scandal could temporarily halt the government’s work in communications. But I think this is a chance to shift responsibility for overseeing broadcasters from the old to the new generation of MIC officials. The crisis can only be solved by transforming it into a fresh opportunity.  

 

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