Photo/IllutrationJunichi Fukuda, administrative vice finance minister, leaves the Finance Ministry on April 16. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Sexual harassment allegations against the top Finance Ministry bureaucrat have cast doubt over the Abe administration’s ability to govern the nation.

The allegations have emerged just as the ministry is being rocked by a scandal over its falsification of official documents concerning the dubious sale of state-owned land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen.

According to a report published in the Shukan Shincho’s latest issue, which hit the newsstands on April 12, Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda repeatedly made sexually suggestive remarks to a female reporter at a bar near his home where he offered to meet for an interview. The comments included asking her to allow him to touch her breasts and offering to have an affair with her.

The magazine has also released an audio recording online of what it claimed is part of the conversation between Fukuda and the reporter.

The Finance Ministry said on April 16 that Fukuda had denied the allegations when he was questioned by Deputy Vice Finance Minister Koji Yano, a lower-ranking official, about the article.

But the dust of confusion created by the allegations is unlikely to settle down quickly as even some lawmakers within the ruling coalition are calling for his resignation.

Meanwhile, Fukuda was fleeing from journalists seeking his response to questions raised by the article. If the report is not factually accurate, he could have immediately denied the allegations. Why didn’t he do so?

Fukuda reportedly said he is “morally responsible” for the very fact that such an article has been published. But what did he mean by that? He should hold a news conference and answer questions with his own words.

Finance Minister Taro Aso’s surprisingly wishy-washy response to the controversy shows no recognition of the seriousness of the situation.

When questioned at the Diet about the article on the day it was published, Aso said he had received a brief oral report on the matter from Fukuda himself and said he had no intention of looking further into the allegations to clarify the facts, saying he thought the official had done “sufficient soul-searching.”

In a news conference the following day, Aso said if the report was accurate, Fukuda was guilty of sexual harassment. But the finance minister nevertheless defended Fukuda by saying he didn’t view the bureaucrat as unfit for his job given his performance during his long career.

Aso instructed Yano to investigate the allegations only after the audio recording was released.

There are also serious questions about the ministry’s belated inquiry.

In a written request, the ministry asked the news organizations that are members of the press club covering the ministry to cooperate with the investigation by the law firm to which the ministry has commissioned the task, if the alleged victim of Fukuda’s sexual harassment was an employee.

That, in essence, means the ministry has asked the woman to come forward to tell her story. The ministry has promised to take steps to protect the journalist’s interests. But it has said nothing about how it will do so or how it will handle the information it receives from the woman.

This has raised questions about the ministry’s commitment to clearing up the facts and its stance toward the issue of protecting the victim’s interests. The way the ministry is handling the matter indicates how far it is divorced from common sense.

The Moritomo document scandal has already destroyed the public's trust in the ministry.

The pathetic state of the ministry, which controls the nation’s budgets and taxation, poses a serious threat to the survival of the administration.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 17