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Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012
Tepco's political tentacles
Just as Tokyo Electric Power Co. is under fire for trying to raise consumers' electricity bills before making sufficient efforts to streamline its management, a series of cases have surfaced in which the company appeared to be trying to strengthen its political influence by sending employees to prefectural and municipal assemblies.
It has been confirmed so far that there are 19 members of various local legislatures who are still on the payroll of Tepco.
Tatsuo Ishiguro, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, was elected to the Nerima Ward assembly in Tokyo in April last year, shortly after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11 played havoc with Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In mid-January, the writer of this article phoned him. The purpose of the call was to confirm his career, which was described in his website as follows: "Started the career with Tepco in 1993; for 17 years thereafter, served as an officer of the labor union, and provided assistance to fellow workers."
The writer wanted to know what he had been doing after the end of those 17 years, or after 2010, and more specifically, whether he remained on Tepco's payroll. When the writer said over the phone, "Your current relationship with Tepco," he abruptly hung up saying, "I am too busy now." It was subsequently confirmed that Ishiguro is still employed by Tepco and is receiving monthly wages from the company.
As a member of the Nerima Ward assembly, he receives an annual remuneration of about ¥10 million plus ¥2.5 million to be used for "research" work related to his official duties as an assembly member. If the salary from Tepco is added, his total annual income easily exceeds ¥20 million. On top of all this, records show that he received political donations amounting to another ¥15 million in 2010 from the political arm of the Tepco labor union.
This means that a large portion of his gross revenue totaling around ¥35 million was provided by Tepco, which collects money from individuals and companies that use electricity supplied by it. It is no wonder that Ishiguro did not want any publicity about his current status as a Tepco employee.
In addition to the 19 local assembly members who are still on Tepco's payroll, it was found that two more local assembly members had worked for Tepco. All of them are members of local assemblies in Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Gunma, Tochigi, Yamanashi and Ibaraki — areas where Tepco has the virtual monopoly of supplying electric power — and in Niigata and Fukushima, where Tepco operates nuclear power plants.
All 19 of them were asked, either by facsimile or telephone, whether or not they have made public their status as Tepco employees. But only five of them have replied. This shows that Ishiguro is not alone in not wanting to talk about his relationship with Tepco.
The activities of these Tepco employees serving as local assembly members are geared to promoting the interests of their current or past employer.
Take for example the case of Akira Anzai, a member of the Suginami Ward assembly in Tokyo, who was thought until recently among his colleague assembly members to have been on the Tepco payroll. He was elected to the assembly for the first time in 2007 with the support of the Tepco labor union. In 2008, he and several colleague assembly members belonging to the DPJ went on "an inspection tour" of the Higashidori nuclear power plant and the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant, both in Aomori Prefecture. Two of the four reactors at Higashidori are operated by Tepco and the two others by Tohoku Electric Power Co.
According to Anzai, Tepco paid for the trip, with only ¥30,000 per person coming from the taxpayers' money. He wrote a report and submitted it to the speaker of the assembly, saying that the survey trip by him and his colleagues had proved that nuclear power generation was "indispensable."
But it was later found out that nearly 80 percent of that report was nothing less than a "carbon copy" of statements contained in the website of Tepco and a pamphlet issued by the Aomori prefectural government.
Even more puzzling is the fact that Anzai serves on the Suginami Ward's board of auditors despite the fact that the ward is negotiating with Tepco on the purchase of the power company's athletic field valued at ¥20 billion. There is the possibility of a conflict of interests.
Kota Aizawa, a member of the Hachioji city assembly in Tokyo and also a Tepco employee, has made frequent trips with his colleagues to nuclear facilities like the fast breeder reactor Monju of Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Fukui Prefecture, Tepco's Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Aomori Prefecture.
After these trips, which were financed by "research allowances" for assembly members, Aizawa also wrote reports supporting the government's policy of promoting nuclear power generation.
Some of the local assemblymen working for Tepco have gone a step further than serving as a PR agent for Tepco. For example, Yukio Amano, a member of the Chiba prefectural assembly, blocked the assembly's adoption of resolutions calling for a reduction of reliance on nuclear power and for separation of the generation and distribution of electricity, both currently monopolized by the nation's power companies, by voicing opinions opposing the resolutions.
Tepco insists that when its employees engage in activities not related to the company like those of local assemblies, they do so of their own free will by taking special days off from their employer.
But the fact remains that all these Tepco employees-cum-assembly members belong to the Tepco labor union and are receiving political donations from its political arm. This union has been working closely with Tepco's management in promoting nuclear power generation and, moreover, gives financial support to its members who have gained seats in local assemblies.
Tepco in the past refrained from making political contributions on the ground that it is engaged in public services. However, the company is sending its employees to local assemblies, while paying them salaries, so that they will engage in political activities in support of the utility.
If Tepco raises its power rates, it will provide the company more funds, with which "agents for the promotion of nuclear power generation" will be active in local assemblies. What consequence will arise from this?
This is an abridged translation of an article from the February issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic scenes.