Metro government’s Senkaku donations gathering dust

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The ¥1.48 billion that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government collected in donations to buy and maintain the Senkakus is just lying idle, waiting to be used, after the central government nipped in to snag the disputed islets in September.

Money began pouring from last April after Tokyo’s hawkish governor at the time, Shintaro Ishihara, said the metropolitan government would purchase three of the islets from their Saitama owner. China and Taiwan also claim the uninhabited cluster in the East China Sea.

But then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration beat Ishihara to the punch and bought the islets in mid-September. The metropolitan government’s account for receiving donations was officially closed Jan. 31.

According to its officials, if the money is carried over to the next fiscal year, it would be mixed into the general account for fiscal 2013. To prevent this from happening, the metropolitan government has decided to create a special fund for the donations and set it aside, with the intention of entrusting it to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government once there is a clear plan as to how the funds would be used for the Senkakus.

“We still don’t know what kind of measures the Abe administration plans to go forward, including on the management of remote islands . . . so I think we will have to leave (the money) as a fund for a while,” Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose said in a news conference earlier this month.

But some donors are not happy with the metropolitan government for failing to buy the islets, and around 170 calls have been received so far from people demanding refunds, one of its officials told The Japan Times.

“The callers ask for their money back because the central government purchased the islets,” said the official, who asked that his name be withheld. “But we explained to them that the original purpose was not only to buy the islets but to use the money for their upkeep, and we promised to make sure that their donations are used for that purpose.”

Whether Ishihara had anticipated the possibility that his plan would fail is hard to say, and he has already moved on in any case, turning his attention to national politics and winning a Diet seat in December’s general election.