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Yoroku: Of public fury and government finance

Ever meet an official who mercilessly scanned every detail of a written application and rejected it for any small irregularity? Such people are said to have a "red tape" mind.

    The expression "red tape" originates with the red string that once bound official documents in Britain, and it has come to represent what many common people see as document worship by the staff of government offices. However, at least in recent times, the bureaucracy's "document-ism" is intended to guarantee the preservation of evidence of official processes, projects and decision-making so that it can be examined later.

    It therefore ought to be impossible for the government to be bereft of records to show how it decided to sell a plot of state-owned land for just 14 percent of its appraised value. Of course, we are talking about the Finance Ministry's handling of just such a sale to nationalist private school operator Moritomo Gakuen. Surely those responsible for caring for Japanese people's assets have an obligation to maintain proof that they are carrying out this management fairly.

    What is surprising about the Moritomo affair is that the finance bureau head who so bluntly insisted during Diet discussions that the sale was "appropriate" while maintaining that "there are no records" has gone on to the top post in the National Tax Agency. Taxpayers struggling with the ample volumes of tax-system red tape must be astonished at the Finance Ministry's idea of "fairness."

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who is in the nerve center of the government which now holds authority over bureaucrats' postings, stated recently that the aforementioned promotion stemmed from the principle of "the right person in the right place." Surely he did not mean that the government thought highly of the new National Tax Agency chief's handling of the Moritomo scandal, in which he could not verify the legitimacy of the land sale and as a result fueled public distrust in the government. Neither the administration nor the Finance Ministry should be so dismissive of taxpayers' feelings.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is now obsessed with revising the Constitution, but we would like him to think about what in this world gave rise to two other constitutions, namely Britain's Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, it was unjust taxation and unfair spending that sparked the fury of the people to demand the reforms embodied in these documents. (Yoroku is a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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