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Saturday, June 30, 2007

'FULL OF LOOPHOLES'

Expense-reporting bill passed, slammed


Staff writer

The Diet on Friday enacted a revision to the Political Funds Control Law aimed at keeping better tabs on how lawmakers use their funds, though critics charge the legislation is riddled with loopholes and will not result in increased transparency.

The Upper House approved the bill requiring lawmakers' fund management bodies to report expenditures greater than 50,000 yen and attach a receipt. The bill had cleared the Lower House earlier this month.

Crafted by the ruling bloc, the legislation is an attempt to mitigate the fallout from the suicide last month of farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who had been under attack for declaring huge sums in "office expenses" despite using a rent-free government office where all utility charges were covered.

Despite repeated demands by the opposition camp that he explain the "office expenses," Matsuoka stonewalled up until the time he hanged himself on May 28.

Two days after Matsuoka's suicide, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, submitted a bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law.

The bill stipulates that politicians' fund management bodies must itemize all expenditures other than personnel fees of 50,000 yen and above and attach a receipt.

Opposition lawmakers have slammed the bill, calling the revision pointless because it targets only fund management groups. Though politicians are allowed only one fund management body, they can have an unlimited number of support groups.

Critics point out that lawmakers can circumvent the new rules simply by transferring funds to their other political groups, of which there are an estimated 70,000 nationwide.

"This is just a bill full of loopholes and is just a trick to deceive the public," said Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party of Japan in a statement after the vote.

Before the revision, lawmakers did not have to itemize office expenses and utility fees.

Cabinet ministers and key lawmakers, including education minister Bunmei Ibuki, LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa and farm minister Matsuoka, were found reporting 30 million yen to 40 million yen as "office expenses" in 2005 despite using rent-free offices. Matsuoka also declared that his funds management group spent 5.07 million yen on water, lighting and heating in 2005.



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