The Finance Ministry again made no attempt to respond sincerely to the Diet demand for an investigation into allegations that official documents related to the Moritomo Gakuen scandal were tampered with.
The ministry on March 8 submitted to a directors meeting of the Upper House Budget Committee copies of the documents of approval for the lease and the sale of state-owned land to the school operator, which is at the heart of the scandal that has rocked the Abe administration. But they were identical to the files that had been previously handed to the Diet.
A senior official of the ministry said, “These are all the copies currently kept at the Kinki Local Finance Bureau,” which handled the land deals. But the official would not make clear if any other documents existed, saying the investigation into the allegations are “still ongoing.”
It is suspected that the ministry approval documents for the questionable land deals that were previously submitted to the Diet in response to a demand by the ruling and opposition parties were not the same as the originals, with some parts missing or rewritten.
The revelations have raised serious issues concerning the foundation of the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of the government.
The checks-and-balances system divides the government into three branches--legislative, executive and judicial--for a separation of powers to prevent the abuse of state authority.
The Finance Ministry’s reluctance to clarify the facts concerning the suspicions runs against the spirit of the system.
The situation is a bitter test of the legislative branch’s ability to monitor and check the behavior of the executive branch according to the checks-and-balances principles.
From this point of view, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s actions concerning the Upper House Budget Committee session on March 8 were baffling.
After the Finance Ministry’s report on its lukewarm investigation into the matter, Genjiro Kaneko, the LDP lawmaker who chairs the committee, convened a session in the face of objections from many opposition parties. Many opposition members of the committee boycotted the session.
The entire legislature, including members of the ruling camp, should have pressed the ministry and the Abe administration for a sincere and swift probe into the matter.
The Finance Ministry has repeatedly said it needs to avoid taking any action that could affect the ongoing investigation into the land sale scandal being conducted by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office.
But that offers no justification for the Diet to become less vigorous and enthusiastic in carrying out its mission of monitoring the actions of the administration.
Article 62 of the Constitution says, “Each House may conduct investigations in relation to government, and may demand the presence and testimony of witnesses, and the production of records.”
As a specific step to clear up the allegations, six opposition parties, including the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Communist Party, are calling for invoking the Diet’s power to conduct investigations into government-related issues according to Article 104 of the Diet Law.
A committee of either house can invoke the step and demand the submission of specific reports and records with a majority vote. In that case, the government must comply by submitting the required reports and records.
The ruling camp is showing no intention to respond to the opposition parties’ call. But public distrust of the Diet could only keep growing if nothing is done to effectively deal with the situation.
Both the ruling and opposition parties have the responsibility to take necessary actions to fulfill their mandate and regain public trust.
It is also vital to summon Nobuhisa Sagawa, then chief of the Finance Bureau (now head of the National Tax Agency), to testify before the Diet to answer questions about his past remarks about the scandal that denied allegations of the ministry giving special favors to Moritomo Gakuen, which had a link to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The current Diet turmoil over the scandal is raising serious questions about the role and responsibility of the Diet as “the highest organ of state power.”
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 9