Still can’t say where the money went

The Lower House Budget Committee had an intensive deliberation on the issue of money and politics last week, with the opposition concentrating on a dubious report by Agriculture Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka’s political fund management organization. The committee scene was a re-enactment of what happened before. Mr. Matsuoka flatly refused to explain and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended him. Both should realize that by refusing to clarify, they are shirking important responsibility as politicians.

Mr. Matsuoka’s fund management body is located in a Diet office where rent and utilities are free. Yet it reported spending 28.8 million yen on utilities for five years through 2005. At first, Mr. Matsuoka offered a ludicrous explanation that the use of a water purifier raised the spending. Now he says the body made proper reports in accordance with the Political Funds Control Law. The meaning of his statement is that he will not explain the spending. Mr. Abe defended the farm minister by saying the latter fulfilled his responsibility as demanded by the law.

Mr. Abe and ruling lawmakers counterattacked by calling attention to the fact that the fund management body of Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa declared about 415 million yen as office expenses for 2005, a more than 10-fold increase over the previous year, and that a large part of the spending was used to buy property under his name. But Mr. Ozawa fulfilled the minimum responsibility. He called a news conference to explain and disclosed related documents.

Now Mr. Abe is urging the Diet to revise the law. A revision proposed by the ruling coalition would require that political fund management bodies attach receipts for each expense of 50,000 yen or more to their reports. This may be an improvement. But just pushing the revision would amount to evasion of the greater responsibility — the duty to explain how Mr. Matsuoka’s organization used 28.8 million yen. In addition, the coalition proposal is more lax than the DPJ’s proposal, which would require all political organizations to attach receipts for each expense of 10,000 yen or more.