Suspicions have arisen that Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Ryota Takeda prompted a ministry bureaucrat to avoid giving clear testimony in the Japanese Diet during deliberations over a violation of foreign investment rules by broadcasting company Tohokushinsha Film Corp.
The focus of the issue is whether a person in charge at the company who became aware of the violation reported that fact to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
An opposition legislator asked a ministry official whether such a report had been made to the ministry during a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. But before the official spoke, Takeda, who was sitting in the Cabinet minister's section, could be heard saying, "I have no recollection." The official then repeatedly responded, "I have no recollection."
Takeda maintained that he never gave any directions or orders regarding the official's testimony. But if the head of a ministry says such a thing in front of a subordinate, then it would be normal for the official to construe that as an instruction. The explanation that his comment "somehow popped out, perhaps unconsciously," fails to hold water.
If the company did indeed report the violation to the communications ministry, it would mean that the ministry overlooked an illegal state of affairs. The testimony from both sides on the issue is conflicting, but it can't be helped if Takeda is seen as turning his back on an investigation into the truth.
Takeda has also continued to give insincere testimony in the Diet regarding the problem of wining and dining by telecoms giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT). On the question of whether there had been any dinner meetings with NTT's president, Takeda reiterated, "We would never join in dinner meetings that would invite the suspicion of the people," and evaded responses for a week. It was only after a report from weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun surfaced that he made a turnaround and admitted that a dinner meeting had taken place.
Ministerial rules ban actions inviting public suspicion, such as receiving entertainment from related parties. If officials were not in violation of these rules, then surely they could have acknowledged the meeting from the outset and explained it, putting an end to the matter.
The stance of not squarely responding to questions and then acknowledging the acts after reports surface only deeps public suspicions and increases distrust in politics.
In November last year, when one dinner meeting took place, NTT was proceeding to make NTT Docomo Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary, and its approach to lowering mobile phone fees was in the spotlight.
Takeda said he was invited to take part in the dinner meeting by another business figure, and that he was not aware that NTT's president was there. But it is unnatural for him to say that he joined in a meeting without being aware of who else was attending.
Takeda needs awareness that he heads an organization under suspicion. If he does not reform his stance of making light of the Diet, then he will have a hard time recovering public trust.