Media Mix, April 22, 2018

Kihei Maekawa

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about how and why the Finance Ministry protects its own in the face of scandal. Because the FM is considered the most powerful bureaucratic organ in the government, it has a kind of symbiotic relationship with the country’s best universities. Of the 52 men who have headed the ministry since the end of World War II, 48 are graduates of the Univ. of Tokyo law department. Naturally, this elite status results in predictable loyalties and attitudes, which were exemplified in the sexual harassment scandal that brought down Junichi Fukuda last week. (And which will be the subject of next week’s Media Mix.)

But sometimes these attitudes are informed by something else. During discussions of the two school-related scandals now dogging the Abe administration, several commentators have compared the fates of tax agency chief Nobuhisa Sagawa and former education ministry chief Kihei Maekawa. The education ministry is pretty low on the bureaucratic totem pole. Nevertheless, the media was surprised when last year Maekawa confirmed the existence of documents in his ministry that suggested the prime minister had pressured the government to approve a veterinary school operated by one of his friends. In a way, it shouldn’t have been a surprise because Maekawa had already been forced to quit to take responsibility for an “amakudari” scandal involving a ministry official who secured a post-retirement position at Waseda Univ. He no longer had anything to lose by revealing Abe’s involvement in the veterinary school approval, but as several commentators have pointed out, Maekawa had even less to lose because he’s from a wealthy family and didn’t really the need the job in the first place. Since leaving the ministry he’s worked more intently on issues that interest him, lecturing at schools about improving public education.

The commentators brought up Maekawa’s situation in contrast to that of Sagawa, previously a top FM official who may have lied to the Diet last year when he repeatedly testified that ministry documents related to the Moritomo elementary school scandal didn’t exist any more. Later, Sagawa was promoted to the head of the tax agency, which is considered one of the most powerful positions in government, and the media speculated that it was a reward for stonewalling the Moritomo investigation, which has since been resurrected with a vengeance. The difference between Sagawa and Maekawa is illustrative, some pundits have said. Sagawa is from a poor family and had to work really hard to get where he is. He will do anything to protect that position because he has nothing to fall back on, while Maekawa really didn’t need the education ministry job. He only took it because he actually cares about education. Sometimes the term “elite bureaucrat” has a complicated meaning.

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