LAST WEEK, Japan’s economy minister Akira Amari resigned under a cloud of controversy, after having been hit with accusations that he accepted $101,000 in bribes from a construction firm in exchange for favors in government contracts.
Just prior to Amari’s resignation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a public statement pledging firm support for his embattled economic guru, but demanded that Amari explain his side to address the allegations that had been made in an investigative report by a tabloid newspaper in Japan.
While maintaining his innocence, Amari instead resigned, saying the scandal had damaged his credibility and compromised his focus on his job. He apologized for having become a distraction.
His replacement came quickly in the person of Nobutera Ishihara, a career politician who has held several different cabinet posts in the Abe government.
What is remarkable is the quick and smooth transition from Amari’s resignation and replacement as handled by Abe and his party. If there was one person in the incumbent Japanese government who could have been described legitimately as indispensable, it was probably Amari. He was Japan’s key representative in the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, and played a key role in the US-led trade pact. Amari was also the most competent of the various managers of ‘Abenomics,’ the economic program of the Prime Minister. His departure under any circumstances is seen as a huge blow to PM Abe; leaving under a cloud of suspicion just makes it worse.
Meanwhile, our own government is twisting itself into rhetorical and legal knots in an effort to cover for Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, whose record of gross incompetence in managing the nation’s infrastructure – in particular, Metro Manila’s troubled light rail system – has been blackened even more by the presentation of enough evidence of wrongdoing involving the MRT’s latest questionable maintenance contract in the Senate hearings. The Senate committee handling the questioning, led by Senator and presidential aspirant Grace Poe-Llamanzares, apparently feels a criminal investigation of Abaya is in order.
Abaya is anything but vital to the Aquino government; if anything, he has been a handicap. Yet, not only does he not have the good manners to step down – even temporarily – to clear up his potential legal woes and restore at least a little public confidence in the DOTC, his boss in the Palace will do anything to keep him on board, even in the face of growing public wrath. The counter-argument offered by the Administration via Communications undersecretary Manuel Quezon 3rd over the weekend was a monumental non sequitur: Instead of calling for criminal charges, Quezon said, Ms. Llamanzares should be “understanding and supporting the reforms being carried out by the government.”
In Japan, the Administration accepts a potentially disastrous change in personnel without drama because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences to the government or its programs. In the Philippines, every effort is made to retain a potentially disastrous, obviously unreliable, and completely replaceable official, regardless of the consequences to the people the government is supposed to be serving, because what’s right is only right if it has some advantage to the regime.