Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Change in Attitude Toward Corruption?

It often comes as a surprise to people who think of Japan as an orderly society, but there's a lot of corruption here. One of the biggest forms is contracting out government construction projects. In the last month and a half, three of Japan's 47 governors have been arrested on bid-rigging charges. The government decides on a project, decides on a maximum budget, then puts it out to bid. In theory, the government's pre-decided ceiling is secret. But in Miyazaki-ken, for example, the winning bid was an average of 95.8% of the government's ceiling. The governor was arrested yesterday. The governors of Fukushima and Wakayama have been arrested, too.

That's just an example; there are many others. The government and press have been on an anti-corruption campaign the last couple of years, attacking interests including those that led to poor oversight of large apartment complexes, which are now believed to not be earthquake-safe. But this seems to happen every few years; the governors of Ibaraki and Miyagi were arrested in 1993, during my first tour of duty in Japan. So I figured this one would blow over, too, but now I'm starting to think they're serious about cleaning things up.

This problem extends even to research; professors of Todai (U. Tokyo), Keio, and Waseda have all gotten caught with their hand in the cookie jar in the last three years or so. This has resulted in intense scrutiny of all research-related expenses. Every expense report I file gets gone over with a very fine-toothed comb. At the macro level, the funding of grants has slowed down due to the addition of more checks.

Part of the problem comes from a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" cooperativeness. Especially in government construction contracting, many of the government officials expect to Descend From Heaven (amakudari) to a cushy advisory role for the construction companies they nominally supervise. Not exactly conducive to strict oversight.

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