ONCE upon a time, an organisation called MITI was one of the most powerful agencies of the government of Japan. It was so powerful and so all-embracing in its vision and role that MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) turned into Japan’s most important security and intelligence-gathering agency.
Founded in 1949, its mission included co-ordinating international trade policy and, more importantly, reviving Japan’s economy after the disaster of the Second World War. MITI attracted Japan’s best and brightest. It was seen as being the apogee of public service, the SEC of America, the ICS of Britain. The men who ran MITI were the mandarins of the Japanese public service.
Nothing of significance happened without MITI involved somewhere. It co-ordinated trade policy, it talked non-stop to the Economic Planning Agency and the Bank of Japan, it had its fingers in the pies of agriculture, construction, forestry and fisheries, health, transport and telecoms.
MITI saw its job as making life easier for Japanese business. It had no desire to run businesses, but it made it possible for them to improve technology and to compete in international markets. MITI stepped in when necessary to protect Japanese firms from international competition, and it secured technological intelligence. I am sure it will deny this, but there is more than a whiff of James Bond about some of its activities. It provided firms with foreign exchange and assisted in mergers.
It may no longer be the case, but it certainly used to be so, that when Japanese companies were involved in major international trade negotiations, MITI’s men were central to the Japanese teams.
In short, MITI avoided the much-parroted and disastrous communist idea of a centrally planned economy and opted instead for one in which subtle guidance and suggestion played a major role in the development of Japanese commerce and industry, propelling it to become the world’s second-largest economy at one stage. Look behind the facade of all Japan’s major success stories in car making, white goods and technological marvels such as the cameras and watches that have swamped the world, and MITI will have been there, somewhere.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, MITI’s predominance was at its peak. Prime ministers were expected to have served for a period as MITI minister before taking over.
No longer, though.
The introduction of a floating exchange rate, intense lobbying from other countries, and the growing power of Japan’s resurgent zaibatsu meant that power flowed away from MITI. It is more than a little interesting to note that MITI’s decline coincides with Japan’s own economic problems such as its virtual stagnation since the 1990s.
For the African National Congress, which seems to think China has worked out how to have it all (it hasn’t but it will take time to sink in), it would be a lot more profitable to look at the MITI experience. If we desire a successful nation with full employment, low taxes and bulging national bank accounts, the MITI experience is an excellent exemplar. Communists who want to know more about the developmental state should read Chalmers A Johnson (he invented the word) on "MITI and the Japanese Miracle".
NPA ‘theft’ affair will reflect on secrecy bill
ON TUESDAY afternoon, the Protection of State Information Bill appeared before Parliament after an absence of two-and-a-half months.
And quite enough has come to light in the interim to satisfy most thinking people that the bill is so flawed as to present a serious challenge to the authority of the constitution should it succeed in securing the National Assembly’s approval.
Much of the most recent concerns revolve around the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the extraordinary convolutions inside that institution.
The charges that hang, Damocles-style, over the heads of Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes and reporters Sam Sole and Stefaans Brümmer emanate from this authority.
It’s alleged they are involved in some way with the theft of confidential records arising from an inquiry by the authority in terms of section 28 of the National Prosecuting Authority Act; the subject of the inquiry involved presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj and his wife.
Whatever the outcome, the affair couldn’t have come at a worse time for those supporting the state’s bill. It underlines the extent to which journalists will in future be at risk if they seek to publish information that is deemed prejudicial to the state — and that, by extension, can mean the ruling party and its ministers.
Then there’s the matter of the suspension of National Prosecuting Authority deputy director Glynnis Breytenbach, allegedly for displaying bias in the matter involving Kumba and Imperial Crown Trading. The evidence coming out of the hearings so far casts officials of the authority in such a bad light as to suggest not merely that there has been inept collusion between them, but that downright lies have been on parade.
The finding of the disciplinary hearing will be unusually important. If it finds in favour of the authority and Breytenbach is dismissed, I am in no doubt at all that she will take the matter on review, as many times and as high up the judicial chain as she may deem appropriate.
If, on the other hand, she is found blameless, then the future of senior officials of the authority will become very bleak. This, of course, is the essential issue in this matter. It is not about Breytenbach or about acting prosecutions head Nomgcobo Jiba. It is about the manner in which the authority has been persistently abused over the last decade.
This is what is so frightening. It is one of the most powerful institutions in the land. Its authority is virtually untrammelled. This is why those who lead it need to be men and women possessed of such elevated levels of integrity that they are unusual. This is what so singularly described Vusi Pikoli, who insisted on doing his job according to his lights even when so many hands were turned against him.
Long ago, many years ago in fact, I warned what would happen if then head of the authority Bulelani Ngcuka was not quickly brought to heel. He was not, until it was too late.
Even Hercules would shrink from cleaning these Augean stables.