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2009年6月17日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 16(IHT/Asahi: June 17,2009)
EDITORIAL: Deepening postage scam

Atsuko Muraki, a "rising star" at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, was arrested Sunday over her alleged involvement in a scam involving postal services. The Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office suspects she falsified and illegally issued a document that led to systematic abuse of a postage discount system for disability support groups.

The fake certificate was issued to Rin no Kai, a group that was not involved in any activity to help disabled people. The certificate enabled the group to save nearly 2 billion yen in postage costs. Without the certificate, the scam would have gone awry.

Muraki, director-general of the ministry's Equal Employment, Children and Families Bureau, has denied the allegations. Still, it is a matter of grave concern that a senior welfare ministry official responsible for promoting the well-being of the disabled is alleged to have taken part in an unlawful moneymaking scheme.

After the earlier arrest of a lower-ranking official, the ministry mounted an in-house investigation into the scandal. Sunday's arrest of the career-track bureaucrat indicates the rot at the ministry is widespread. What we don't understand is why ministry officials resorted to breaking the law to grant such a favor to the organization.

The system allows organizations supporting the disabled to mail periodicals at deeply discounted rates. But organizations must meet certain criteria to be eligible for the discount, which is intended exclusively for groups that support people with disabilities.

The fabricated certificate in question was issued in June 2004, when Muraki headed the Policy Planning Division of the Department of Health and Welfare for Persons with Disabilities. Tsutomu Kamimura, Muraki's subordinate at that time, was rearrested on Sunday for allegedly conspiring with Muraki to falsify the certificate. Kamimura had been arrested for forging an internal document of approval.

Rin no Kai apparently existed in name only. The certificate was issued even though insufficient documentation was submitted. It seems that Kamimura acted alone in fabricating the internal approval document. But the falsified certificate in question not only was in the format of an official ministry document; it also bore the official seal of the chief of the Policy Planning Division. If other officials in the ministry failed to detect the forgery, the ministry's document checking system can only be described as slipshod.

What must not be overlooked is the fact that issuance of the certificate was treated as a political matter.

Apparently, Muraki's supervisor at that time, who formerly headed the department, told prosecutors during questioning on a voluntary basis that the former chief was asked to grant a favor to Rin no Kai by a lawmaker and senior member of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan). The individual said the request was conveyed to officials in charge of screening applications for the discount system. The group's head, who was once an aid of the Minshuto lawmaker, later visited the ministry to meet those officials.

When Kamimura took over the Rin no Kai case upon being transferred to the position, he was told by his predecessor that it was a "matter concerning a politician."

A string of scandals involving government employees prompted the Diet in June 2008 to pass a basic law to reform the civil servants system. One key feature of the law is a provision requiring government employees to keep records of their contacts with politicians. This provision was aimed to inject more transparency in response to public criticism about cozy ties between politicians and bureaucrats.

It would be really outrageous if it turns out the discount system was abused at the behest of a politician.

If what the former chief of the Department of Health and Welfare for Persons with Disabilities has told investigators is true, the scandal will take on an even more serious hue. The politician involved has an obligation to explain his involvement in a scandal that has implicated senior bureaucrats.


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