In response to mounting suspicions about doctored documents authorizing transactions of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, the Finance Ministry on March 6 submitted a progress report on investigations to a meeting of the directors of the Upper House Budget Committee.

The suspicions were first raised by The Asahi Shimbun five days ago (http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201803020036.html). Incredibly, the ministry's report did not even confirm or deny the existence of the documents in question. And more to the point, the report revealed practically zero progress, as if the inquiry is only about to start.

A senior official reiterated that the ministry wanted to proceed with caution so as not to influence an investigation by the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office.

That line of thinking is inane as both the ruling and opposition camps had demanded the ministry submit the documents.

Had the documents been doctored as suspected, the ministry was guilty of marginalizing the Diet by ignoring the latter's constitutional authority to investigations in relation to government.

What this means is that it will become impossible for the Diet to examine the crux of the Moritomo Gakuen scandal--whether the sale of the government land was conducted in an appropriate and legal manner. As such, more than one year of Diet deliberations on this scandal have been a total waste.

If the ministry happens not to have the documents to hand, it can ask the prosecutors to return them. But in merely stressing its concerns about "affecting the (prosecutors') investigation" without even attempting to retrieve these records, the ministry only comes across as trying to delay its own investigations.

The Public Records and Archives Management Law stipulates that official documents are records of historical facts and the public's shared intellectual assets that support the foundations of democracy.

And now, the government is suspected of tampering with them for its own convenience.

The Finance Ministry is responsible for the management of national assets. When that very ministry is engaged in tampering with public records, who can believe in the fairness of government? This inevitably shakes the public's trust in the government apparatus, not just the Finance Ministry.

Land transaction negotiations between the ministry and Moritomo Gakuen were held in 2015 and 2016. Documents authorizing the transactions, prepared by the ministry's Kinki Local Finance Bureau at the time, stated that the price would be presented according to Moritomo Gakuen's proposals.

But these statements were nowhere to be found in documents submitted to the Diet after questions were raised about the transactions in February 2017. All explanations given by the ministry were in line with what Nobuhisa Sagawa, then chief of the Finance Bureau (now head of the National Tax Agency), repeatedly told the Diet.

What was the basis of Sagawa's statements? It is now more crucial than ever for Sagawa to be called to the Diet to explain everything in detail.

Let us bear in mind that it is the responsibility of the two Diet chambers, not just the opposition parties or the ruling coalition, to force the Finance Ministry to investigate promptly and disclose the results.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 7