TOKYO -- The indictment on Aug. 15 of a former senior education ministry official on bribery charges -- the second such case in recent weeks -- has seriously damaged public trust in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). The ministry, however, has not come up with measures to prevent a recurrence, and even insiders are complaining that the sense of legal compliance among bureaucrats is weak.
Kazuaki Kawabata, former director-general for international affairs at the ministry, was indicted on a charge of accepting bribes in the form of wining and dining by Koji Taniguchi, a former medical consultancy executive who was also indicted along with the bureaucrat.
Earlier, Futoshi Sano, former director-general in charge of science and technology policy, was charged for allegedly helping Tokyo Medical University win ministry subsidies in return for his son's backdoor admission to the school. Two former top officials of the university, ex-chairman Masahiko Usui and ex-president Mamoru Suzuki, face trial in this case too.
The ministry has announced it will set up a team of experts to investigate if its officials are following rules. Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also told reporters on Aug. 15 that he will launch a fundamental review of the ministry. But no concrete countermeasures, including how to deal with other bureaucrats who have been wined and dined, have emerged so far.
Central government bureaucrats are banned from receiving treats under ethics rules. They are required to report to ethics monitors in advance of eating and drinking sessions in which they are expected to pay 10,000 yen or more each. But a ministry official confided that "almost no one is following those rules.
The two bribery cases came after yet another scandal involving ministry officials, in which top bureaucrats were punished for systematic job hunting for retiring bureaucrats in industries they once regulated. A senior ministry official explained that the latest bribery cases stem from the high frequency of bureaucrats' contacts with outside figures. "Education ministry officials easily establish relationships with people even when conflict of interest is a concern, arguing that those connections are necessary to absorb a variety of opinions for the purpose of providing good education to children," the senior official said. "They lack a sense of compliance, and therefore are easily preyed upon."
Some 40 mid-level ministry officials submitted a letter of opinion addressed to Administrative Vice Minister Kazuo Todani, the ministry's top bureaucrat, on July 25, saying that public trust can only begin to be restored through earnest and serious efforts. "It is up to each and every official to change their thinking to regenerate the education ministry," the senior ministry official said.
(Japanese original by Takuya Izawa, City News Department)