Photo/IllutrationFukui prefectural government officials apologize at a news conference on Nov. 21 after announcing disciplinary measures on officials who had received monetary and other gifts from the late Eiji Moriyama. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The revelation was serious enough to compromise confidence in public service.

We cannot help but be astonished by the fact that so many officials aimlessly continued taking monetary and other gifts for such a long time.

It has been learned that 109 employees of the Fukui prefectural government, including high-ranking officials, took cash, gift certificates, gold coins and various other gifts from the late Eiji Moriyama, who served as deputy mayor in the town of Takahama in the prefecture.

The gifts were ostensibly offered to celebrate inaugurations, as a token of farewell, as midyear gifts and year-end presents. The most received by any one of the officials was worth 200,000 yen ($1,840).

Quite a few of the officials failed to reciprocate with presents that would have matched what they had received.

A panel that looked into the case said 21 of them received gifts in excess of what was expected of standard etiquette over a period of approximately 20 years through fiscal 2014.

The latest probe came in response to the revelation that senior officials of Kansai Electric Power Co. used to receive expensive gifts from Moriyama. The utility made excuses, saying that Moriyama became infuriated when a recipient declined his gift.

A similar explanation was also given in defense of the prefectural government officials. The receipt of the gifts, however, should by no means be forgiven.

Moriyama worked for the prefectural government as a guest research fellow on human rights. He deepened, as such, his connections with sections and departments concerned.

At the same time, he also served as adviser for a civil engineering and construction firm, which has received orders for engineering work from Kansai Electric and the prefectural government.

Some of the prefectural government officials who accepted gifts from Moriyama worked for the civil engineering department and a regional office, which oversees similar engineering work.

The probe panel said it has confirmed no case of Moriyama making entreaties or receiving favors from officials including those in other sections and departments, but that statement is hardly persuasive.

The probe itself, in the first place, is less than sufficient.

All three members of the panel, which was set up in mid-October, are legal advisers to the prefectural government, a situation that calls its independence into question.

The investigation only covered workers in sections and departments that were supposed to have had connections with Moriyama, and they were either interviewed or asked questions in writing.

The probe was not legally enforceable. The panel worked out a report in a matter of a month without even conducting a fact-finding survey to verify what the subjects of the probe had declared.

Tatsuji Sugimoto, governor of Fukui Prefecture, harshly denounced Kansai Electric when the receipt of gifts by the utility’s executives came to light.

“The whole act is so outrageous, as it did great harm to the relationship of trust with communities hosting (nuclear plants),” he said.

Now, he had to speak on the receipt of gifts by prefectural government officials.

“We will have to shape up,” he said, but we are left to wonder if he intends to draw a curtain on the problem with a probe like this.

Moriyama was reportedly an influential figure when the additional No. 3 and No. 4 reactors were being built on the site of Kansai Electric’s Takahama nuclear plant. He is said to have wielded clout in bringing the reactors to the site and in settling related matters in the local community.

Along with the town government of Takahama, the Fukui prefectural government is one of the players with authority to make decisions on whether the utility should be allowed to build additional nuclear reactors or to restart ones that are suspended.

The probe panel said it has found no particular connection between Moriyama and the prefectural government’s safety and environment department, which oversees nuclear safety measures.

At least one official, however, worked for the safety and environment department after taking Moriyama’s gifts. There are therefore lingering concerns that his gifts may have affected public administration work.

In the town of Takahama, a special audit found “inappropriate” part of the services entrusted to a security company where Moriyama served as an executive. That was because the contract was a negotiated one, which sidestepped a bidding process.

The town government is planning to set up a panel soon to study whether any of its own officials was on Moriyama’s gift list. A central question here is how serious the town government is about finding out the facts.

We have yet to learn the entire reach and depth of the shady nature of the gifts that Moriyama distributed. The case should be studied through and through.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23