Reveal Truth behind Entertainment Scandal at Communications Ministry

If a family member of a politician was given special treatment and entertainment was provided to officials by that family member, the public’s trust in the government will be lost. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry should uncover the truth in an earnest manner.

It has come to light that four senior officials of the ministry, including Yasuhiko Taniwaki, a vice minister for policy coordination, were entertained by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s eldest son, who works for a company involved in broadcasting.

Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda effectively ousted two officials, including Yoshinori Akimoto, director general of the Information and Communications Bureau. The government plans to announce the results of its investigation soon and discipline those involved.

The ethics code based on the National Public Service Ethics Law prohibits receiving entertainment and gifts of money and goods from interested parties. The matter must be dealt with strictly.

According to the ministry, the four were entertained by Tohokushinsha Film Corp., where Suga’s son works, a total of 12 times since 2016. There were occasions on which they received taxi vouchers and gifts.

It is only natural that public servants, who exercise great authority over private-sector businesses, maintain an appropriate distance from business operators to avoid conflicts of interest. The ministry must look into the circumstances of the dining and other matters in detail.

At a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee on Friday, Akimoto said of Suga’s son: “I just had assumed that he was not a party of interest. There was a laxity in my understanding.”

The opposition camp pursued the possibility of an exchange of opinions over the broadcasting business, but Akimoto said, “I don’t recall it being brought up.” However, when a weekly magazine reported the details of what he had said, he did an about-face and admitted to it.

Tohokushinsha runs a satellite broadcasting business for which the ministry has licensing authority, so it is obvious that the company is a party of interest in the matter. If Akimoto tried to trivialize the issue with false answers to the Diet and vague explanations, it should not be overlooked.

Is there any evidence that arrangements were made in favor of the business operations of Tohokushinsha through repeated wining and dining? It is important not only to discipline the officials involved, but also to give a thorough explanation in the Diet.

It does not make sense for the prime minister to say his son is “a completely different person” and to emphasize that this is an issue between the ministry and his son alone.

The son served as a secretary for Suga when he was internal affairs and communications minister, before going to work for Tohokushinsha. As long as Suga holds a key position in the government, he should be self-disciplined and not involve his family in administrative fields where he has influence.

If the prime minister, who has severely criticized hereditary politics, takes a lax stance toward his family members and deals with the situation as if it were a somebody else’s problem, he will not be able to gain the public’s understanding.

Bureaucrats cannot be allowed to hide the fact, and the involvement of the prime minister’s family in the problem is no excuse. The prime minister needs to deal with the situation in a sincere manner and dispel any doubts.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 20, 2021.