MLIT chief keeps sweating
According to newspaper reports, Kazuo Kitagawa, Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, announced on July 1 that the MLIT plans to "voluntarily" refrain from allowing its officials to accept post-retirement positions with the 47 bridge-building firms that belong to the bid-rigging groups.
And most media organizations who belong to Nippon Kisha Kurabu, the notoriously exclusive national press club specializing in news-rigging in favor of the government, more or less, approved this "corrective measure" against the decades-old and widespread practice of amakudari, or descent from heaven.
In June the Fair Trade Commission filed a criminal complaint against three major steel bridge contractors of Japan Highway Public Corporation (see Note below,) i.e., Yokogawa Bridge Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co. on the charge of violation of the Anti-Monopoly Law.
Note: JH is going to be separated from thw MLIT and privatized in October this year in line with the Junichiro Koizumi's pointless "trinity reform" plans.
According to the FTC, these industrial heavy-weights have long been up
to bid-rigging, forming two cartel-like groups around them. As is true
with any other government contractors, these ringmasters have given high-paying
positions to retired government officials on a regular basis so they are
kept posted with the latest inside information about the future construction plans
on the part of JH, especially in terms of price assumptions. (Their bid prices are glued to the range from 95% to 99% of the prices assumed on the JH side, perhaps by coincidence.)
That's how the investigators of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office had to bestir themselves and raided the offices of JH a little belatedly. I say belatedly because as the Daily Yomiuri reported in its July 2 issue ("JH 'moved documents' before office searched") sources close to the investigation crews revealed that potentially incriminating documents had been removed from JH offices in about 800 cardboard boxes in early- to mid-June.
As to the lawfulness of amakudari, the July 2 issue of the DY explains in a report headlined "Ministry takes steps to limit amakudari": "[Currently] government officials may accept jobs with firms directly linked to sectors they regulated within two years after their retirement, even though such action is in principle banned under the National Civil Service Law, only after having gained permission from the National Personnel Authority."
But now that the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced, after a July 1 Cabinet meeting, he was taking a necessary countermeasure by refusing to give such permissions to retired officials wherever their destination is a member company of the two particular bid-rigging groups, every newspaper seems to be insinuating that the MLIT chief has taken the right step.
In effect Kitagawa and the media lapdogs are saying, "We are going to penalize these 47 companies by refusing to allocate ex-government officials, for a certain period of time, who would otherwise be invaluable sources of classified information." Put more blatantly, they have reassured other contractors, who are willing to observe the tacit rules governing the collusive public-private partnership, of stable supply of retired officials who are always instrumental in collecting insider information from the ministry.
On the part of JH, they have already banned these companies from lucrative contracts, for varying periods of time, depending on how far they were actively involved in the fraud. Believe it or not, the maximum period is one year.
Maybe in a year or two, the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors office will seek some additional penalties in money terms or otherwise. But in Japan the worst thing these criminals have to be prepared for is to return their loot.
Maybe some of these criminals get some prison terms but most of the time these sentences are suspended especially when there are too many villains involved in a highly institutionalized crime such as this one for the jailhouse to accommodate.
These are "steps" they have taken, or are going to take.
The real messages hidden between lines of these statements:
- This particular bid-rigging fraud is an isolated case and its revelation was just one of those unfortunate mishaps.
- Certainly it's not something inherent to the 1955 System. Hence they don't find it necessary to take any more steps than just a couple of stopgap measures.
- Bid-riggers who carelessly overdid their pursuit of lucrative business in the private sector and retired officials who descended from the bureaucracy in a little inappropriate way are the major players in this fraud. That acquits the real ringmasters, i.e., lawmakers who are specializing in pork-barreling, of all the blame for the deep-seated corruption.
You may refer to the June 30 TFP piece titled "Yasuo Tanaka's new initiative faces formidable tasks ahead" if you are interested in knowing someone who has been waging an all-out war against the "triangle of evil" since 2000. You will be impressed by his remarkable accomplishment, and his straightforward tactics to effectively abolish the practice of amakudari.