One interesting thing that’s come out of the Kake scandal is the warfare that’s breaking out between the Ministry of Education and the Cabinet Office. While Abe and Suga were talking about “phantom documents” (with incriminating references to pressure from Abe on civil servants to benefit his friends), the pictured Kihei Maekawa, ex MOE head, held a news conference to say that such documents definitely existed! Soon other MOE people were raising their hands to say “me too”. The Minister of Education was finally obliged to admit their existence.
The accepted wisdom about civil servants in Japan is that they are corrupt (think of “ama-kudari” with which, ironically, Maekawa was associated) and very conservative, holding up the modernization of the country with a forest of outdated regulations. During the Democratic Party’s brief spell in power one of their main targets was to reduce the power of the bureaucracy so that elected politicians could enact more progressive programmes. Unfortunately they were very clumsy about it, and merely succeeded in making enemies who impeded everything they tried to do. A high-placed official in the Foreign Office went so far as to give the Americans advice on how to resist PM Hatoyama’s attempts to move US military bases off Okinawa! (This, along with similar treasonous behaviour by the LDP resulted in the effective destruction of the DPJ.)
Abe, with his huge Diet majority, has continued the anti-bureaucracy crusade, this time to better advance his agenda of concentrating power around the Prime Minister, and away from everybody else. In that context, it’s refreshing to see people like Maekawa stand up to him, and condemn the corruption that his absolute power is causing.
OK now just a couple of days ago, NHK had a news feature about a group of young civil servants in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and their recent white paper about social security. (They’ve got a Facebook page too.) Outspoken, quite critical of government policy, maybe controversial in places… Go bureaucrats!
Japan Times on the corruption thing: