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Education ministry rapped over survey seen as bid to draw curtain on scandal

The questions in a survey slip obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun are seen in this photo. (Mainichi)

A survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on revolving-door lobbying is designed to make it impossible for ministry employees to report other staff's irregularities unless there is "evidence," the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The education ministry has been conducting a written survey of all of its 3,000 or so employees on the practice of revolving-door lobbying, in which bureaucrats land post-retirement jobs in the sectors they used to regulate, which is in violation of the national civil service law. The latest revelations show that the survey format is designed to effectively raise hurdles for ministry employees to report other employees' misconduct, prompting some ministry officials to lash out at the poll for what they described as a "survey to draw a curtain on the scandal with the conclusion that 'there were no other illegal activities.'"

The education ministry set up a team of researchers, including lawyers and other outside experts. The panel has been looking into whether there have been cases of ministry officials illegally facilitating post-retirement jobs for other personnel while still working in government since 2009, when regulations were tightened. The survey covers a total of about 3,000 education ministry employees, including about 2,000 working at the ministry headquarters and about 800 who are on loan to state-run university corporations and other relevant entities. The ministry is to release the results of the survey around the end of March.

According to the survey slip obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun, the questionnaire consists of 8 items, including: whether ministry employees provided information about other employees or retired employees to companies and other entities with the purpose of helping them land jobs, and whether ministry employees demanded or asked relevant companies and other entities in which the ministry has vested interests to offer post-retirement jobs to other ministry employees or retired employees.

Apart from asking ministry employees whether they themselves have conducted such activities, the survey asks them whether they "have seen or heard about other employees" conducting such illegal activities. The survey, however, adds that "If you have, you must have the evidence to prove it." The survey design is such that ministry employees have no option but to say "no" unless they themselves have "evidence."

Citing such things as records of e-mail messages as "evidence," an education ministry official in charge of the survey told the Mainichi, "We decided to use that format because we need some kind of evidence in order to ultimately identify whether a certain activity is illegal." The official went on to say, "Regarding the preparation of the survey slip, we took into consideration the opinions of outside experts, and have no intention of leading (ministry employees) to reply that there have been no irregularities." Yet, the fact remains that it is uncommon for a third person to have "evidence" to prove that mediation took place.

An education ministry employee said, "I myself have heard about cases of revolving-door lobbying, but because it's impossible for me to have any evidence, I circled 'no' (on the survey) and submitted it." The employee added, "I think it will be impossible to clean up an organization through a survey that presupposes that 'there were no other irregularities.'"

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