Opposition parties on Feb. 13 renewed their pursuit of the Moritomo Gakuen land transaction scandal in the Lower House Budget Committee.

They focused on the credibility of statements, made repeatedly during the Diet's regular session last year by Nobuhisa Sagawa, who headed the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau at the time, that all documents pertaining to the ministry's negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen had been "discarded." Sagawa is currently National Tax Agency commissioner.

In January, the Finance Ministry released five internal documents containing negotiation procedures with Moritomo Gakuen. This was followed by the disclosure of 20 more internal documents last week.

Amid growing suspicions that Sagawa lied to the Diet, an explanation given by Finance Minister Taro Aso last week strained credulity, at best.

Aso stated, "The documents are records of internal legal consultations. As such, they are not records of negotiations (with Moritomo Gakuen)."

But there is no denying that these documents do contain records of the negotiations.

Sagawa has repeatedly denied holding price negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen prior to the land sale. But an audio tape that has surfaced has a Kinki Financial Bureau official saying, "We will strive to make the price as close to zero as possible."

Sagawa's successor, Mitsuru Ota, resorted to pure sophistry by claiming that the negotiations were over "kingaku" (amount of money) and not "kakaku" (price).

The contents of these documents were not included in a report submitted to the Diet last November by the Board of Audit, simply because the Finance Ministry had not released them in time for inclusion in the Board of Audit's examination.

Why did Sagawa keep saying things in the Diet that amounted to deceiving the public? Could the Finance Ministry have been involved in a systematic cover-up? The only way to find out is to summon Sagawa to the Diet and let him explain.

The head of the Financial Bureau is responsible for the management and disposal of public assets. As the man in that position, Sagawa's integrity is being questioned because of his statements in the Diet.

Moreover, now that he is at the pinnacle of the nation's taxation organization, he must not be allowed to hide from the taxpaying public.

And yet, he kept giving members of the Diet--who are the elected representatives of the people--information that was obviously not true. Unless he comes forward to clearly explain himself, he will never earn the understanding of taxpayers.

The filing of tax returns for last year's income starts on Feb. 16. During the Lower House Budget Committee session on Feb. 13, Aso conceded that he was fully aware of the possibility of angry taxpayers balking at filing their tax returns.

But at the same time, Aso also insisted that Sagawa's appointment as National Tax Agency commissioner represented "the right man in the right place." And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fully supported Aso's comment.

One wonders which is more important to the Abe administration, the taxpaying public or the Finance Ministry's personnel affairs.

The questions raised by the Moritomo Gakuen scandal are not just about the truthfulness of one Financial Bureau chief's statements. They are about the fairness and justice of government, and whether the current leaders believe in the people's right to know.

Not only Aso and Abe, but the entire administration is being tested on its integrity.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 14