Thoroughly Examine Whether Companies Manipulated Government Officials

A series of incidents have come to light revealing an inappropriate relationship between the government and business. The government should thoroughly investigate whether expensive hospitality provided to ministry officials by companies with vested interests has resulted in a distortion of regulations.

During intensive deliberations at the House of Councillors Budget Committee meeting, opposition parties focused on the wining and dining involving senior officials of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. Yasuhiko Taniwaki, vice minister for policy coordination, and other ministry senior officials were entertained by NTT Corp. President Jun Sawada and others.

According to the communications ministry’s interim report, Taniwaki was wined and dined on three occasions from 2018 to 2020, at a total cost of more than ¥100,000. Makiko Yamada, former Cabinet public relations secretary, who also was then vice minister for policy coordination, and Eiji Makiguchi, director general of the ministry’s Global Strategy Bureau, each received hospitality worth about ¥50,000 last year.

The ministry has the licensing authority to approve NTT’s business plans and other projects. Receiving excessive hospitality is a clear violation of the ethics code based on the National Public Service Ethics Law, which prohibits accepting hospitality from interested parties.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has asked the telecommunications industry to lower mobile phone rates. NTT announced last year that it would make NTT Docomo Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary.

What was the purpose of the hospitality on those occasions? If the government and the industry are suspected of collusion, the administration’s signature policy would be shaken. The prime minister must take this seriously.

Concerning the issue of ministry officials accepting hospitality from Tohokushinsha Film Corp., a company involved in broadcasting for which the prime minister’s eldest son works, Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda stressed in February that there were no other cases of ethics code violations.

Following the NTT hospitality revelation, the communications minister apologized at the Budget Committee meeting for having undermined public confidence in the government’s regulations. It is no surprise that Taniwaki was removed from his post.

The government plans to reinvestigate the case, with the participation of former prosecutors. However, Yamada, who has since resigned from her Cabinet post, is not expected to be a subject of the reinvestigation. If the government takes a lenient attitude toward former government officials involved, it will be impossible to gain the understanding of the public.

In the debates at the upper house Budget Committee, it was brought up that Tohokushinsha’s certification for satellite broadcasting operations was not revoked, even though it had violated foreign investment regulations four years ago.

Under the Broadcasting Law, foreign investment in a satellite broadcasting operator must be less than 20% for it to gain certification. This is based on the perspective that the interests of the public should take priority in the use of radio waves that are highly public services. Why was this violation allowed to continue?

Isn’t it possible that the presence of the prime minister’s eldest son has influenced the ministry’s decision? The ministry must clarify this point.

Regarding novel coronavirus measures, opposition parties criticized the government for failing to secure medical personnel and strengthen the public health center system. Simply pointing out the inadequacies of infection control measures will not improve such issues as the working conditions of frontline medical workers. They must make constructive proposals.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 9, 2021.