The series of media reports concerning the spendthrift way Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe uses public money and political funds shows that his sense of fiscal responsibility in handling taxpayer money and political funds is egregious. Masuzoe must consider whether he is worthy of serving as governor of the nation’s capital. The best course of action he can take is to explain in detail his actions in his own words. If his explanations cannot convince the public, the only way left for him is to resign.
The cases involving the governor that have drawn public criticism are numerous. Since Masuzoe took up the post in February 2014, he has made nine business trips abroad, spending more than ¥200 million in total. Critics have taken aim at his decision not only to fly first class himself but to have his staff fly business class. They’ve also lambasted his numerous stays at expensive hotels during these trips that exceeded the spending limits set in the metropolitan government’s internal rules — often by more than double. Masuzoe’s revelation that he used an official car 48 times to visit his private second house in Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, from April last year to this April has also drawn strong criticism.
Masuzoe admitted earlier that while he was an Upper House member, his political fund management body made payments of ¥240,000 and ¥130,000 to a hotel in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, respectively in 2013 and 2014 on the grounds that the use of the hotel was related to political activities. He had in fact reserved the hotel rooms for family trips. Masuzoe’s explanation concerning the hotel stays was less than convincing. He said that although he and his family stayed at the hotel, the political fund body made the payments to the hotel and treated the payments as political activities-related expenses because he also consulted with his aides at the hotel on how to cope with the 2013 Upper House election and the 2014 Tokyo gubernatorial race. The governor even refused to disclose how many people took part in the meetings at the hotel.
In another incident, this one involving some ¥84,000 spent on private dining and wining that the political fund body paid for and reported as political expenses, Masuzoe called it a mistake on the part of the person in charge of accounting who was handling receipts.
Media reports have also noted that over ¥9 million used to purchase art objects was described as outlays for “supplies” and “expendables” in expense reports by Masuzoe’s political fund body between 2012 and 2014. In addition, ¥98,000 spent on manju (bean-jam buns) with his likeness branded on them and ¥1.97 million used to buy two cars in Yugawara were categorized as political expenses and paid for by Masuzoe’s political fund body.
According to a report by the weekly Shukan Bunshun, the governor also has used political funds to pay the rent on his “office” inside his private house at a rate of ¥442,500 a month for 48 months from February 2011 for a total of some ¥35 million.
Masuzoe says he’s “ashamed” that suspicions have arisen concerning his use of political funds but insists that he has fulfilled his accountability duty. This gives the impression that he wants to avoid responding in a meaningful manner to the questions that have been raised about his financial conduct.
Probably the most serious of the problems involving Masuzoe is a reported transfer of money, whose sources included state subsidies to political parties, from a branch of Shinto Kaikaku (New Renaissance Party) to his political fund body in January 2014 just before the branch was disbanded because he was leaving the party to run as an independent in the Tokyo gubernatorial race. The party’s branch, which was headed by Masuzoe, moved some ¥5.26 million to his political fund body, and when the latter body was dissolved in July 2014, the money was taken over by his new political fund body. The money included some ¥4.29 million that originally was paid out of the state coffers as a subsidy to Shinto Kaikaku, according to the Shukan Bunshun, which reported the money transfers.
Since the subsidy was distributed to the party to cover its political expenses, Masuzoe’s retention of the money as an independent politician runs counter to the spirit of the law governing state subsidies to political parties. When a political party or its branch is dissolved, the internal affairs minister can order the remaining money be returned to state coffers. Masuzoe has remained silent on the matter. The Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which supported him in the 2014 Tokyo gubernatorial election, have a duty to clarify Masuzoe’s responsibility in the metropolitan assembly session that starts in June. Masuzoe, for his part, should come forward and explain what he and his political fund bodies did in detail.
What has enabled Masuzoe to get away with his dubious conduct so far is the fact that the Political Funds Control Law says nothing about the purposes for which political funds can and cannot be used. The Diet needs to plug this gaping loophole so politicians cannot use political funds for private purposes and enrich themselves.
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