Sucking out cash from the taxpayer honey pot
Used books come in all kinds and prices. Some are a dime a dozen, while rare books command exorbitant prices. For instance, a well-preserved first edition set of the three-volume "Wagahai wa Neko de Aru" (I Am a Cat) by novelist Natsume Soseki (1867-1916) can apparently fetch about 3 million yen.
I hear that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism owns a set of extraordinary volumes that would surprise even the literary feline in Natsume's novel. Reportedly, the production cost was around 30 million yen per copy.
The volumes are supposed to be a report on overseas roads, but the content is very thin. The book project was funded by road-specific tax revenues.
Goshi Hosono, Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) Lower House legislator looking into the matter, posed questions in the Diet recently. He found out that the transport ministry commissioned the Infrastructure Development Institute-Japan to do the book project--for 90 million yen.
Not surprisingly, this institute provides amakudari cushy jobs to retired ministry officials. The institute took three months to put the report together, but had only three volumes printed and bound. There is little doubt the institute knew nobody was going to read it.
Much of the content was reportedly "borrowed" from the World Bank's published materials and online encyclopedia entries. There is nothing in it to indicate the institute did any independent analysis or research.
"This report was commissioned solely for the purpose of bankrolling a haven for retired officials," said an irate Hosono. "Obviously, (the officials responsible) are completely under the illusion that taxpayers' money is their money."
The image I have is that of many straws stuck into a potful of tax money. It is obvious to anyone that the institute's report is just one of these straws. Public funds are being sucked away liberally, spilled like bath water down a drain.
"Government officials are the servants of the people," says the cat in Natsume's novel. The feline then goes on to lament the erosion of the spirit of public service, noting that officials have become so accustomed to power, they think they can ignore the public completely.
Natsume wrote his book a century ago. But the cat's lament and Hosono's anger are one and the same, and I am truly disgusted to see that no progress has been made in a hundred years.
--The Asahi Shimbun, March 13(IHT/Asahi: March 14,2008)