The arrest of Wakayama Gov. Yoshiki Kimura on suspicion of involvement in rigging bids for a prefectural sewerage project has further weakened public trust in local government. He became the first incumbent governor to be arrested on such an allegation. Bribery is also suspected inasmuch as a slush fund was found in the prefectural government’s secretarial section and expensive watches in the governor’s official residence.
His arrest came within a month of the arrest of former Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato on suspicion of receiving bribes from contractors for a prefectural dam construction project. The latter’s arrest came shortly after he resigned from office. The arrests of the two governors are disappointing all the more because both were regarded as reformists. Their arrests testify to the fact that bid-rigging in public works projects and related bribery die hard in this nation.
Before becoming governor of Wakayama Prefecture, Mr. Kimura served as chief of the Finance Research and Guidance Division of the then-Home Affairs Ministry’s Local Finance Bureau and vice governor of Osaka Prefecture. He was first elected Wakayama governor in September 2000 and re-elected in August 2004. While in office, he advocated transfer of more power to local governments from Tokyo.
It is suspected that his relationship with a local construction company that had helped him during the 2004 election campaign was a factor in the bid rigging. The company offered him an election campaign office free of charge and secured votes for him. Its board chairman even dissuaded a local politician from running in the election.
Mr. Kimura is suspected not only of conspiring with others, including Wakayama’s then-chief treasurer — also under arrest — to award the sewerage project to a consortium led by a Tokyo-based construction company but also of instructing the treasurer to add the local construction firm to the consortium. His arrest shows that strict personal discipline among officeholders cannot be taken for granted and that the bidding systems must change.
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