Ministry disciplines seven bureaucrats over 'amakudari' corruption scandal

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The education ministry took disciplinary action Friday against seven senior bureaucrats over their involvement in illegally negotiating to secure their colleague a post-retirement university job.

According to a report issued by the Cabinet Office’s re-employment oversight committee, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology was also involved in 37 cases of a practice known as amakudari (literally “descent from heaven”) in which retired bureaucrats are given lucrative jobs at entities in the business sectors they once oversaw.

Given the education ministry’s systemic amakudari practice, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the same day the government will investigate all ministries to see whether similar practices had been carried out elsewhere.

The report said the ministry’s human resources division sent information on Daisuke Yoshida, 61, a former senior official at the ministry, to Waseda University in Tokyo to help him get a job while Yoshida was still in service.

In addition to the seven officials, a former education ministry official who served as the administrative vice minister when the illegal action took place was asked to voluntarily return two months of his salary. His situation is unique, in that he is still employed by the Foreign Ministry, although he retired from the education ministry. As Yoshida is no longer employed by the government, he cannot be punished, the ministry said.

Among the other cases, nine were also suspected of violating the law governing public servants, according to the committee.

Also on Friday, Kihei Maekawa, 62, the education ministry’s administrative vice minister who was involved in some of the cases, resigned. The ministry’s punishment for the seven officials, including Maekawa, includes two-month pay cuts and a three-month suspension.

After receiving the report from the committee, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno apologized, pledging to implement measures to prevent such practices in the future.

“I am deeply sorry for undermining the confidence of the public. We will reflect on the matter seriously and will work to retrieve the public’s trust,” Matsuno said at a regular news conference, adding that he will return six months of his ministerial salary.

“I believe it was due to the ministry’s lack of understanding of the regulations over re-employment (of retiring officials) and also the lack of sense of compliance with related laws,” he said.

The ministry will conduct its own investigation, to be completed by the end of March, Matsuno said.

The National Public Service Law bans civil servants from asking companies or entities to employ their retired colleagues.

The law also restricts bureaucrats from seeking out jobs while in office at companies or entities related to the sectors they supervise.

Yoshida applied for the university position while heworked as the head of a bureau that oversees the nation’s higher education sector, including subsidies to universities and entrance exams, according to the education ministry.

He landed a professor position at the university’s Center for Higher Education Studies in October 2015, about two months after his retirement from the ministry.

The committee also said the ministry’s officials initially gave a false explanation, apparently to cover up their illegal actions.

Yoshida, 61, resigned from his post as a professor Friday, Waseda University President Kaoru Kamata said.

“We regret that our understanding of the re-employment regulations was lacking and we were unable to stop the ministry’s illegal involvement,” Kamata told a news conference.

Kamata maintained that the university had not colluded with the ministry and neither sought nor received any inappropriate payoff or advantage for employing Yoshida.

But he did apologize for the university having “temporarily confused the (watchdog’s) investigation” by initially providing a false explanation regarding the ministry’s request.

The amakudari practice has long been criticized by the public, as it could lead to cozy, corrupt relations between government officials and the industries that fall under their administrative jurisdictions.

In the past, it was linked to bid-rigging and price-fixing of government projects by entities where ex-officials assumed lucrative positions.

Takashi Nishio, a professor at the International Christian University and expert on public administration, said the education ministry’s case could be classified as amakudari.

“This kind of thing should not be happening … The relationships between the education ministry and a university involves money and many other vested interests,” Nishio said.

But Nishio added it would be difficult to eradicate the amakudari culture without reforming ministries’ seniority-based personnel system. As officials get older, the number of opportunities for promotion declines, which effectively leaves them with no choice but to leave the office, usually before they turn 60, he said Many leave the office before they turn 60, he said. “In order to root out the amakudari practice, such personnel systems should be revised. And I believe it will take a decade or so to revise the system,” Nishio said.

Information from Kyodo added

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