It’s deja vu all over again. Yet another lawmaker has fallen into disgrace over money scandals. On Monday Mr. Tadamori Oshima, the minister of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, resigned his post in order to take responsibility for the alleged graft and misuse of campaign funds by his former secretaries. Just last month, a Lower House member was indicted on charges of falsifying a campaign finance report.
Mr. Oshima’s resignation was to be expected. Even if not directly involved, he cannot escape responsibility, as he himself acknowledged on resigning, for having failed to properly supervise his aides. He is also to blame for the disruptions the scandals have caused in Diet business. What is more, using his position as a Cabinet minister, he sought the help of Lower House legal advisers to prepare for a Diet inquiry into the scandal.
Mr. Oshima continued to evade questions from opposition parties after the graft scandal came to light in October 2002. The ruling parties played for time to put off Diet testimony by the former aides involved. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi stayed largely on the sidelines, or so it seemed, although Mr. Oshima was one of the key ministers Koizumi had appointed in last September’s Cabinet reshuffle.
The seemingly endless run of money scandals, most of them involving Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, is disturbing indeed; it’s indicative of the entrenched ties between politics and business. Earlier this year, top officials of the LDP chapter in Nagasaki Prefecture were also arrested for taking illegal contributions from local public works contractors.
Mr. Oshima seems to have timed his resignation carefully — and shrewdly. The fiscal 2003 government budget has just become law, clearing the way for debates on other key measures, such as Japan’s response to military contingencies as well as privacy protection bills. Had he stayed on, opposition parties would have strengthened their offensive, putting both the government and the coalition parties in a bind at an important juncture in the half-year regular Diet session. Mr. Oshima’s exit may have also helped Prime Minister Koizumi defuse the rising cries for a Cabinet reshuffle from within his own party.
The former agriculture minister is implicated in two scandals, one of which involves a former policy secretary who allegedly received 60 million yen in kickbacks from public works contractors. Mr. Oshima has denied the allegation, saying he has personally questioned the aide. But a business consultant who is said to have acted as the mediator has told a different story in interviews with the media.
The story, if true, is similar to the scandal that in May last year drove then-Upper House President Yutaka Inoue to resign from the Diet. The irony is that Mr. Oshima took a leading role in fighting graft during last year’s scandal-ridden regular Diet session. For example, when an aide to Mr. Muneo Suzuki, an LDP lawmaker accused of peddling influence, was arrested, Mr. Oshima called for Mr. Suzuki’s resignation, saying lawmakers have a responsibility to supervise their secretaries.
In the second scandal, which broke in February, a former campaign fund manager allegedly misused 6 million yen he had received from a real estate company. The treasurer was also suspected of violating the Political Funds Control Law by failing to report the donation. Mr. Oshima has not only failed to clear up the suspicions, he also has obtained questionable cooperation from the Lower House legislation bureau in building his case.
In preparing a crib sheet for Mr. Oshima, the bureau went against the rule of neutrality that must be observed by the legal section when it assists lawmakers with legislative activities. Mr. Oshima cannot escape criticism that, by turning that rule upside down, he has hurt the impartiality of the legislation bureau and even the prestige of the Diet itself.
The resignation by a Cabinet minister over a money scandal — the first since Mr. Koizumi took office two years ago — is a blow to the Koizumi administration. With the World Trade Organization’s farm talks at an important stage, the prime minister picked Lower House lawmaker and former transport minister Mr. Yoshiyuki Kamei as Mr. Oshima’s successor. Yet the earlier rejection of Mr. Koizumi’s offer by two Liberal Democrats signaled a decline in the prime minister’s leadership.
It needs to be remembered that a scandal does not necessarily end with a resignation. Mr. Oshima, like other scandal-tainted politicians before him, is likely to remain under a shadow of suspicion until and unless the truth is unraveled. But by resigning at an opportune time, he may have spared the Diet — and the nation — unnecessary political bickering.
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