Guard taxpayer money as you would treasure
2008/10/22In the old days, thieves used to compare white-washed, plaster-walled storehouses where people kept their treasures to young women with white face powder. A variety of slang words used by crooks emerged from this allusion.
When it was easy to carry out loot from a storehouse, it was referred to as an "easy delivery in childbirth." When the opposite was true, the "delivery was difficult."
When the warehouse was locked up tight, the thieves would complain that "mother is strict." All this is described in Tomosuke Watanabe's book, "Ingo no Sekai" (The world of jargon).
According to the book, slang aims to "maintain confidentiality within groups." But occasionally, words and expressions secretly handed down within a group are unexpectedly exposed by a crime. When that happens repeatedly, the term eventually is no longer considered slang.
A Board of Audit of Japan investigation into the accounting practices of 12 prefectures found irregularities in all of them. Many cases involved carrying over unused government subsidies for a given year to the next fiscal year. The money, totaling hundreds of millions of yen, was mainly accounted for as bogus orders for large quantities of stationery and other supplies.
Under the rules, unused funds are supposed to be returned to central government coffers at the end of each fiscal year. Under the fictitious purchase orders, the funds were kept by suppliers by a method called azuke (depositing).
In 2006, we saw the word azuke frequently in headlines after revelations about slush funds in the Gifu and Nagasaki prefectural governments. The term spread far and wide; it is apparently a familiar accounting term in government circles now.
The Board of Audit investigation also found cases of haritsuke (pasting). Haritsuke refers to central government subsidies being diverted and spent on things that should have been paid for by prefectures.
Moreover, unused government money was also used on the salaries of temporary employees whose jobs had nothing to do with government-subsidized projects.
Although local governments are operating under tight budgets, they did sometimes have surplus funds. Such money was at least unnecessary for the projects that fiscal year.
Dishonest accounting leads to embezzlement and too-cozy relationships.
Returning to the analogy of breaking into warehouses, public funds management should always be a "difficult delivery." If local governments worked hard for their subsidies, they probably use them to develop worthy projects.
Central and local governments must remember that the huge coffers of cash kept in their warehouses are a deposit made by taxpayers.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21(IHT/Asahi: October 22,2008)