Utilities got 68 ex-bureaucrats via ‘amakudari’

Kyodo

The past 50 years have seen 68 former elite bureaucrats parachuting into top positions at the nation’s 12 electricity suppliers after retiring from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, including five who landed at Tokyo Electric Power Co.

At present, 13 retired career-track METI bureaucrats hold senior positions at electric power companies under the practice of “amakudari” (descent from heaven).

METI, which oversees 10 electric utilities and two electricity wholesalers, investigated the matter after the crisis at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant fueled criticism of the practice.

The fact that former elite bureaucrats land key positions at private-sector companies in industries they previously oversaw has been widely criticized for creating cozy, corrupt relations, as well as allegations that this has led to slack supervision of the nuclear power industry.

METI minister Banri Kaieda recently urged his bureaucrats not to accept jobs offered by government-affiliated organizations or companies the ministry oversees, but he has no authority to force retired officials to leave their current jobs.

Five former ministry officials have assumed postretirement positions at Tepco over the past 50 years, including as advisers and board members. The utility is struggling to end the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima plant that was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The crisis has also cast a spotlight on the relationship between METI and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which plays the role of nuclear watchdog but is under the ministry’s wings.

The agency, established as a special entity of the METI-affiliated Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, is responsible for ensuring the safety of nuclear plants. The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, institutionalized under the Cabinet Office, is supposed to double-check the agency’s steps.

Calls are mounting for NISA to be organizationally separated from the ministry, which has long actively promoted nuclear power. Last month, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he will look into the feasibility of NISA’s separation from METI.