National

'Amakudari' scandal widens as education ministry finds new cases

Kyodo

The education ministry reported 17 new cases in which its personnel had been involved in illegally securing post-retirement positions for bureaucrats in recent years, the ministry said Tuesday.

The findings, announced in an interim report as part of an inquiry into the job placement racket, bring the number of cases discovered in the ongoing scandal so far to 27.

“This serves as evidence that the ministry has been systematically involved in violating regulations on re-employment,” education minister Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference.

The scandal indicates the ministry deliberately circumvented the law and is serious enough to prompt “a rebuilding (of the ministry) from scratch,” a senior official in the ministry said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida ordered an investigation into his ministry’s connection to the scheme in response to media reports that suggested the education ministry helped a former diplomat land a post-retirement job.

In 2007, lawmakers reformed legislation on the re-employment of civil servants to combat the long-standing cultural practice of amakudari (descent from heaven) by which retired bureaucrats secure cushy jobs in sectors they used to oversee. The practice serves as a potential vehicle for corruption.

In order to circumnavigate the changes, those accused of continuing the practice are believed to have sidestepped the ban by having retired civil servants instead of active officials handle the illegal job placements, the ministry found.

According to the interim report, a document dating from 2010 showed involvement by the ministry’s human resources division in making such an arrangement for a retiring colleague to handle job placements. The memo outlined a plan to keep the former official engaged in the role by giving him an office and a secretary through a ministry-linked foundation.

Tuesday’s report identified 16 ministry officials who had been involved in the practice, including former vice minister Kihei Maekawa, who resigned from the ministry’s top bureaucratic position last month over the scandal. Matsuno vowed to “rigorously punish” those newly implicated.

Maekawa’s replacement, Kazuo Todani, turned up at a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s education policy division Tuesday and offered a “deep apology for having undermined confidence (in the government).”

The report also included a list of prestigious universities found to have taken on former ministry bureaucrats through the racket.

“There was a lack of awareness about legal compliance at the ministry,” said Matsuno, who has held the portfolio since a Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.

The ministry will continue its investigation of roughly 3,000 active employees and 500 retirees. It plans to release the final findings at the end of March.

Its investigation team has not yet found evidence of illegal activity in 11 other cases in which bureaucrats landed post-retirement jobs.

Following an initial probe into the education ministry made public last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered a government-wide investigation to determine how widespread the practice is within the public sector.

“The government … has been instructed by the prime minister to flush out (the issue) from scratch at all ministries and agencies, and we will completely explain the results of the full investigation to the public,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Tuesday.

Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said it is “unallowable and highly problematic” for the authority in charge of education to have been entangled in the practice.

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