Cabinet funds stay secret: Sengoku

by Jun Hongo

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku hinted Friday that disclosure of the Cabinet’s controversial discretionary funds will not take place anytime soon, saying the issue needs a thorough examination to avoid tampering with national interests.

“This is undoubtedly a thorny theme,” Sengoku, who was named Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s right-hand man Tuesday, said in an interview.

The government’s top spokesman questioned whether ending the practice would truly benefit Japan, explaining that its impact extends even to diplomatic affairs.

The fund, formally called the “kanbo hoshohi” (secretariat rewards) but dubbed the “kimitsu-hi” (secret fund), is a budget allocation the chief Cabinet secretary is allowed to use freely and reportedly without submitting any receipts. Approximately ¥1.4 billion was budgeted for the discretionary funds in 2009.

Previous administrations claimed the fund is used to implement government duties, but it is widely believed the cash often went to pay off lawmakers, including those in the opposition. Recent magazine reports also suggest the fund was used to bribe journalists and political analysts for favorable reporting on the government.

Although the Democratic Party of Japan had called for a detailed account of the fund when it was in the opposition camp, Sengoku’s predecessor, Hirofumi Hirano, did not follow through after taking power in September.

“There is an old proverb that says clear water breeds no fish,” Sengoku said Friday, explaining that he needs to observe the practice for a while to decide how to handle the issue.

Regarding the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, Sengoku said both the media and the government should look at the bigger picture instead of continuing to debate the feasibility of the time frame.

“The only question being asked is whether we can really reach a conclusion by August” on construction plans for the new facility, Sengoku said. While acknowledging that ties with the United States will remain the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy, he expressed hope that the two states will hold strategic discussions on what is needed to sustain regional stability.

“Instead of asking if we can complete our homework by the deadline, we should exchange opinions with both Okinawa Prefecture and the U.S. about how to truly sustain the peace and prosperity of the whole East Asian region,” Sengoku said.