The Ministry of Finance is refusing to submit material requested by the Japanese Diet in connection with the tampering of documents relating to the heavily discounted sale of state land to nationalist school operator Moritomo Gakuen. It is an abnormal situation in which the ministry is making light of the Diet.
The material in question, said to detail the events surrounding the document tampering, was reportedly created by Toshio Akagi, a Kinki Local Finance Bureau official who took his own life after being instructed to go ahead with the falsification. An audio recording exists in which Akagi's former boss told Akagi's wife about the existence of the document.
Under Article 62 of the Constitution, the Diet has the power to "conduct investigations in relation to government, and may demand the presence and testimony of witnesses, and the production of records." To supplement this, regulations in the House of Representatives stipulate a system of preliminary investigations that even minority parliamentary groups can utilize. Under this system, if 40 or more Diet members file a request, then the head of the Research Bureau of the House of Representatives and other officials can request cooperation from public offices to carry out investigations. In the Moritomo case, 128 opposition party legislators filed such a request.
Speaking in a Diet session in 2018 in which the doctoring of data came to light, lower house Speaker Tadamori Oshima expressed reservations about the government's responses in the Diet, stating, "Significant distrust has arisen among the public and it is an extremely regrettable situation." At the time, he called for the use of the preliminary investigation system.
Finance Minister Taro Aso, however, has cited a civil lawsuit continuing between Akagi's wife and the national government, and declined to respond, saying he shouldn't do anything to influence the lawsuit.
The request for cooperation in such investigations is nonbinding, but it is said there have been no cases in the past in which officials refused to hand over requested material or answer questions on the grounds of a civil lawsuit. The Finance Ministry's response tramples upon the preliminary investigation system and the lower house speaker's proposal.
It has emerged during investigations that Aso and Nobuhisa Sagawa, who at the time headed the ministry's Financial Bureau, gave Diet testimony that diverged from the facts a total of 139 times over the space of approximately a year and a half regarding this issue.
And now, the issue of false testimony in the Diet has surfaced once more in connection with dinner functions held on the eve of annual cherry blossom-viewing parties hosted by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. According to the lower house Research Bureau, Abe contradicted the facts a total of 33 times in connection with his office's involvement in the functions, the shouldering of costs that were not covered by participants, and the existence of detailed statements of expenses.
In exercising its administrative authority, the Cabinet is checked by the Diet, which represents the sovereign people of Japan, in a mechanism of separated power.
It is the Cabinet's responsibility to respect the Diet, and to make it work. If false testimony and refusal to respond to investigations continue, then the Diet cannot perform its essential function.
Parliament is the foundation of democracy. The Japanese government needs to rectify its stance of making light of the Diet that has continued since the previous administration.