Semi-public bodies are on notice: Edano

by Kazuaki Nagata

New reform minister Yukio Edano said Wednesday a second round of scrutiny in April will target independent administrative institutions and public interest corporations that are believed to be squandering taxpayer money.

“I will be doing zero-based reviews of independent administrative institutions. So it will be in line with our campaign pledge to abolish them in principle,” Edano, 45, said in an interview.

Independent administrative institutions and public interest corporations have often been criticized for allowing the practice of “amakudari,” or rewarding top bureaucrats with lucrative “postretirement” jobs. According to the internal affairs ministry, there were 98 independent administrative institutions as of last Oct. 1 and 24,648 public interest corporations as of Oct. 1, 2007.

Edano noted that how taxpayer money is used by those entities can be quite dubious, and many problematic expenses were found during the first round of budget-trimming meetings, which aimed to cut outlay requests by such entities for the 2010 fiscal year.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s ex-policy chief was appointed minister Feb. 10, after Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii resigned last month and his predecessor, Naoto Kan, assumed Fujii’s post.

Analysts have said Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ president, also aims to dispel the image of his Cabinet being controlled by DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa by appointing Edano, who is known to have distanced himself from Ozawa.

As for Ozawa and his funds scandal, Edano hinted that one option is for Ozawa to give sworn testimony in the Diet about his political funding.

“I think the Diet is one place for Ozawa to give an explanation, but it is something that the Diet decides. As a minister, I should not specifically mention Diet management,” Edano said. The DPJ, having a Lower House majority, however, can just rule out any testimony by Ozawa.

Edano is serving his sixth term as a Lower House member, elected from the Saitama No. 5 district.