Suzuki denies all links with Kenyan project

by Toshi Maeda

The following are excerpts from an interview with Lower House member Muneo Suzuki about a controversial hydropower project in Kenya. The interview was conducted on Aug. 22 in Tokyo.

What is your view on this hydroelectric power project?

It has caused me a great deal of trouble. Opposition members as well as some media are claiming there is some link between this project and me, but I have nothing to do with it.

I visited Kenya on Aug. 18, 1999, when I was deputy chief Cabinet secretary, seeking support for Mr. (Koichiro) Matsuura’s UNESCO election bid.

I was briefed by the Foreign Ministry at the time that the Kenyan government’s biggest concern is the Sondu-Miriu hydroelectric project. There, I was asked (by Foreign Ministry officials) to tell the Kenyan side that Japan is positively considering the phase-two work. So I said that.

When I met with Foreign Minister (Bonaya) Godana, Ambassador (to Kenya Morihisa) Aoki asked me to send a positive message from Tokyo, so I did just that.

It is really absurd (of opposition lawmakers and the media) to try to smear my name in this way. I don’t even know where the Sondu-Miriu hydroelectric plant is located.

What is the purpose of your visit to Kenya this time?

This ODA project is now getting into the news. It has been discussed in both chambers of the Diet. That is why I thought Diet committee members should go to see the site and hear local people’s opinions firsthand.

I’ve found a magazine article alleging my involvement in the project is because Konoike (Construction Co.) is undertaking the work and Konoike is one of my supporters. That’s nonsense. I have never been approached by the firm or asked for anything.

When I visited (Kenya) in 1999, there were no environmental problems or shootings. Until recently, I did not even know that Konoike is one of the contractors there.

I understand that your relationship with Konoike originates with an old acquaintance who is a former vice president the firm. Is that correct?

Yes. But he has nothing to do with this project.

You head 16 groups of lawmakers that seek friendly ties with African nations. Does that have something to do with your alleged concessions in Africa?

If there are any concessions in Africa, I would like to know. I’m not involved in any kind of concessions whatsoever, not even for 1 yen. If they want to criticize me, they should present the evidence.

You are also the chairman of the LDP’s Special Committee on Overseas Economic Cooperation, which approves ODA projects proposed by the Foreign Ministry.

Approve is not the right word. We have a parliamentary system, so the (ruling) party must decide on any matter before the government does. The party then discusses the pros and cons of the reports submitted by the government. This is what all other LDP committees do, not only mine.