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Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2007
Ozawa challenges Abe on office outlays
Lawmakers should disclose all details to rebuild public trust, DPJ chief says
By MASAMI ITO
Lawmakers in key positions should disclose details of their office expenses to regain public trust, Democratic Party of Japan leader Ichiro Ozawa said Monday in a challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Under the Political Funds Control Law, lawmakers are required to itemize and provide receipts for money spent on political activities, but not for "office expenses."
Recently, however, several key lawmakers, including agricultural minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, education minister Bunmei Ibuki, and Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have drawn fire for declaring enormous "office expenses" in their political funding reports while using rent-free government offices.
Abe "has not ordered an investigation to solve the actual situation and is dodging criticism by taking refuge in the defects of the current political funds system," Ozawa said during a Lower House plenary session.
From the opposition side, Ozawa himself as well as DPJ policy chief Takeaki Matsumoto have also been reported to have high office expenses.
In an attempt to clear his name, Ozawa announced he is ready to disclose receipts and other relevant documents to explain his office expenses.
Disclosing the details of office expenses "is the simplest solution and (a way to) allay public distrust in politics," Ozawa said.
After the plenary session, Ozawa told reporters that if the lawmakers have nothing to hide, there should be no problem in disclosing the details of office expenses.
"The public has no way of judging (the issue regarding office expenses) because it is not visible," Ozawa said. "That is why (the public) is suspicious that (the lawmakers) are hiding something."
Abe responded by saying he has instructed the LDP to consider such disclosure by its members in the Diet.
The political funds issue "should be discussed by all parties from the viewpoint of freedom of political activities and transparency of political funds," Abe said during the Diet debate.
Regarding farm chief Matuoka's office expenses, Abe added he has been told everything was handled in accordance with the law.
Key lawmakers and ministers have been mired in various political funds scandals of late.
In December, reform minister Genichiro Sata was forced to resign after owning up to accounting irregularities by one of his political support organizations.
Last Friday, Upper House Vice President Giichi Tsunoda submitted his resignation from the post to take responsibility over allegations his campaign headquarters received 25.2 million yen in unreported political donations during the 2001 Upper House election.
The Democratic Party of Japan has picked Akira Imaizumi as vice president of the House of Councilors, replacing Giichi Tsunoda, who is stepping down over a funds scandal, DPJ sources said Monday.
Imaizumi, 72, is currently secretary general of the DPJ's Upper House caucus.