Upper House censures ministers

Ichikawa, Yamaoka censured in Diet

by Natsuko Fukue

Staff Writer

The Upper House passed nonbinding censure motions Friday against Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa and consumers affairs minister Kenji Yamaoka, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration on the last day of the extraordinary Diet session.

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the two largest opposition parties, submitted the motions to a full session of the chamber in the morning.

“Those who are appointed as ministers have to be people the public can trust. So if we think they are not suitable for the position, it’s our responsibility to submit censure motions,” Masashi Waki, Diet affairs chief of the LDP’s Upper House caucus, said during the plenary session.

Censure motions are not legally binding, but since opposition parties control the House of Councilors and usually threaten to block state-sponsored bills unless a censured minister resigns, the move has put the ruling Democratic Party of Japan in a tight spot.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda rejected calls for Ichikawa and Yamaoka to resign.

“It was regrettable and we have to take (the motions) seriously,” Noda said later in the day. “I want them to pull themselves together and do their best to fulfill their duties.”

Both ministers flatly refused to resign from the Cabinet.

“I want to continue fulfilling my duty,” Ichikawa said after a Cabinet meeting, while Yamaoka said he “did not do anything that merits a censure motion.”Opposition lawmakers started targeting Ichikawa after Satoshi Tanaka, drinking with reporters in a bar in Okinawa, used sexual assault euphemisms to refer to the timing of a study needed to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma elsewhere in the prefecture. The off-color exchange got him sacked as director of the Okinawa Defense Bureau.

His boss, Ichikawa, then blundered when he admitted he didn’t know specific details regarding the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl in Okinawa Prefecture by three U.S. servicemen. The crime sparked widespread outrage and triggered the ongoing review of U.S. forces in Okinawa.

Yamaoka drew flak for failing to report donations totalling ¥450,000 in 2008 from a health food company that was allegedly involved in a pyramid scheme. As consumer affairs chief, he is in charge of combatting consumer-related fraud — including pyramid schemes.

He also received ¥2.54 million from other organizations involved in pyramid schemes between 2005 and 2008. Yamaoka said he has returned all the money to the donors.

The DPJ-led government was unable to pass certain key bills during the 51-day extraordinary session, which Noda had been extremely hopeful of enacting. The bills, to cut public servants’ pay and advance postal reform, were carried over to the ordinary Diet session scheduled to start in January.