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Editorial: Finance Ministry wrong to ask alleged sexual harassment victims to step forward

The Finance Ministry has released a statement to counter a weekly magazine report on sexual harassment allegations against its top bureaucrat, Vice Minister Junichi Fukuda. While stating that Fukuda intends to launch a libel suit against the publisher of the weekly magazine that has reported the allegations against him, the document asks the female reporters concerned to come forward and cooperate in getting to the bottom of the case.

The report is based on questioning of Fukuda by the ministry's deputy vice minister, one of his subordinates. Therefore, the document merely cites Fukuda's unilateral claims. Moreover, an attorney who serves as a legal adviser to the ministry will take over the duty to question Fukuda and others concerned. The sexual harassment allegations are a matter relating to Fukuda's qualifications as the top bureaucrat in the ministry. Therefore, it is wrong that the ministry has mixed up the matter with efforts to protect its own organization.

The female reporters concerned are being asked to contact the ministry legal adviser over the matter. However, it cannot be deemed that the attorney is in a "neutral position as an outsider who can ensure objectivity." A probe into sexual harassment allegations requires careful consideration to victims. Although it remains unclear whether the allegations against the top bureaucrat are true, the way the Finance Ministry is investigating the matter has given the public the impression that the ministry is using its broad authority to conduct a one-sided investigation.

At a post-Cabinet meeting news conference, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Seiko Noda said sexual harassment "is a matter difficult for victims to talk about even to their own family members." She went on to say, "It would be difficult for me to talk to the other party." Her view is shared by those within the ruling coalition.

However, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso said, "So what can we do?" At the same time, however, Aso said he felt that the voice recorded in the audio data released by the publisher "may be that of Fukuda."

Shortly after the magazine broke the story on the sexual harassment allegations, the finance minister refused to conduct a detailed probe. "He (Fukuda) has expressed sufficient remorse, so we have no intention of questioning him further."

Aso's remarks and manner in which he has responded to the allegations are incoherent, raising questions as to whether he is in full control of the ministry.

The statement released by the Finance Ministry is unworthy of an official document. It could even give the public the impression that the ministry is trying to take advantage of timing of taking punitive measures over the ministry's doctoring of official documents on the heavily discounted sale of a state-owned land lot to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, and a regular personnel reshuffle to buy time and smooth over the sexual harassment allegations.

A plunge in the approval ratings for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has rocked the political world. Abe and Aso have apparently become unable to exercise leadership to get to the bottom of the sexual harassment allegations against Fukuda because they place priority on self-protection. The Finance Ministry's absurd response to the matter reflects bureaucrats' awareness of politicians' irresponsibility.

The Finance Ministry had been regarded as the most authoritative government organization because it has had high moral standards commensurate with its authority. Yet the current state of the ministry is nothing but deplorable.

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