The usual suspect

Readers will note that I have declined to comment on the widening scandal involving Moriya Takemasa, former administrative vice minister of the Japan Defense Agency, and related corruption at the Defense Ministry.

Frankly, I think the entire issue is a distraction, and I’m pleased that the DPJ has desisted from calling upon Nukaga Fukushiro, the finance minister, to testify.

Why do I not think that this is worth the attention it has received in the Diet?

Because what defense ministry isn’t prone to corruption of the kind we have seen in the case of Mr. Moriya. Consider the companies that do business with defense ministries. The aerospace/defense industry lives by government largesse. Defense companies face little competition from one another — indeed, once a company receives a contract to produce a platform or provide a service, it is effectively a monopolist. What matters to a defense company is not producing efficiently but preserving a stable relationship with the government (and thus preserving the monopoly). What better way to cement a relationship with the agency and officials responsible for the contract than ensuring that said officials are taken care of, whether while still in office or upon leaving office, when they can move into cozy jobs that will help the arms manufacturer preserve the relationship. And so on and so forth into perpetuity, so long as there is a need for weapons and the governments that procure them.

I’m not trying to be cynical — something can and should be done (more on this in a moment) — but I am opposed to efforts by the DPJ to score political points on this issue. Defense procurement is what it is, and being shocked that there’s gambling going on in the establishment and then criticizing the managers is shoddy (especially considering that Yamada Yoko has relationships with boei otaku within the DPJ).

What is to be done? Rather than just use the investigative powers of the Diet to expose the extent of the corruption involving Mr. Moriya, the DPJ could be making a point about the kind of government that Japan is to have. This is an issue that transcends party lines, because undoubtedly a DPJ government, especially under the leadership of Mr. Ozawa, would be little cleaner than LDP rule. DPJ lawmakers could be using this case to make a point about the lack of accountability within the Japanese government, calling attention to the need for institutions that promote transparent and accountable governance. Knowing that the defense ministry and the arms industry work closely together means not calling for heads to roll after individuals abuse that relationship, but having institutions in place to monitor the behavior of individuals on both sides of transactions, assuming that sooner or later someone will try to abuse the system. It means giving prosecutors greater power to investigate wrongdoing and bring responsible parties to trial, so that each case need not become subject to politicking in the chambers of the Diet.

So I’m not impressed by the DPJ’s pursuit of this issue. And I don’t think too many other people are either. I will, however, be pleased if some entrepreneurial DPJ lawmaker stands up and puts the issue in the broader context of the clear failure of collusion between the LDP and the bureaucracy to deliver transparent, responsible government to the Japanese people — and calls for the creation of official watchdogs. (And maybe even encourages his party to submit legislation to this end.)

Someone will have to raise this issue. I certainly don’t expect the Defense Ministry to do the job itself in its newly formed Defense Ministry Reform Conference, which meets for the first time today.

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