Officials lacked awareness of ethical responsibilities as public servants

A senior official of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which is in charge of administering education, gave preferential treatment to a university and even distorted the fairness of an entrance exam. Efforts must be made to correct complacency at the ministry and prevent any such recurrence.

The Tokyo District Court has sentenced Futoshi Sano, former director general of the ministry’s Science and Technology Policy Bureau, to 2½ years in prison, suspended for five years, for receiving bribes related to a ministry support program for private universities.

The ruling found that in 2017, when Sano was the director general of the ministry’s secretariat, the then chairman of Tokyo Medical University asked him to have the university named as a school eligible for a ministry subsidy program, and that in return for his favorable treatment, the university passed his son at the entrance examination in 2018.

Tokyo Medical University was selected as a school eligible for the program and received ¥35 million in subsidies in the 2017 academic year. The ruling criticized Sano’s deed as it “ran counter to his duty not to interfere with the fairness of the project and the proper provision of subsidies.” The ruling appeared to take seriously the defendant’s lack of awareness of his job responsibility.

In addition to Sano, the ruling found the chairman and the then president of Tokyo Medical University guilty of giving bribes, and a former medical consulting firm executive guilty of assisting the bribe-taking, among other charges. All four had pleaded not guilty.

In another case, in 2019, a former education ministry executive was found guilty of accepting bribes in exchange for favorable treatment by sending a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut to Tokyo Medical University as a lecturer in return for being dined and wined, and that ruling has been finalized. The vice minister at that time was also entertained and was forced to resign.

It must be said that the entire organization lacked a sense of ethical vigilance.

The possibility has arisen that education ministry senior officials and others were improperly entertained in relation to a case in which executives of a nationwide association of private kindergartens, including the then chairman, were arrested on suspicion of misappropriating money from the association, among other charges. According to the ministry, dozens of officials will be the target of the ministry investigation.

The National Public Service Ethics Code in principle prohibits public servants from being entertained by interested parties. In recent years, entertainment by telecommunications companies for Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry officials, as well as those of the education ministry, has become a problem.

Ministries and agencies need to review their own organizations again to make sure there are no collusive ties with interested parties and strive to ensure thorough discipline. They should be self-aware, recognizing that trust in their work has been eroded.

In the wake of the corruption scandal involving the education ministry, the irregularities perpetrated by many private universities, including Tokyo Medical University, in their entrance examinations for medical schools have been revealed.

At Nihon University, there have been cases of breach of trust committed by former executives, including a former board director, and tax evasion by the former university chairman. It is also essential for universities to ensure management transparency and work to regain public trust.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 21, 2022)