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Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007

Lawmakers agree to bare their expenses

Staff writer

After a month of discussion, the ruling and opposition camps reached a working-level accord Wednesday to improve transparency in political spending by requiring political bodies to keep receipts for all expenditures exceeding ¥1.

The parties will jointly submit a bill to revise the Political Funds Control Law by early next week — a symbolic gesture in the divided Diet. This will pave the way for it to clear the full Diet before the extraordinary session ends Dec 15.

The bill, agreed on by a working team of six ruling and opposition parties, will oblige all political organizations closely linked to members of the Diet — rather than just the one, official fund-management body each lawmaker is entitled to have — to disclose receipts for any expenditures, except salaries, in excess of ¥1.

For expenditures over ¥10,000, receipts and political funds reports will have to be submitted to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry or to prefectural election administration committees. The information submitted will be disclosed to the public.

For expenditures of ¥10,000 or less, political bodies will be obliged to keep receipts and to disclose the data on request.

Ever since the opposition seized a majority in the Upper House in July, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc has been forced to yield to the Democratic Party of Japan, which has been calling for the disclosure of all expenditures greater than ¥1.

Kenji Yamaoka, DPJ Diet affairs chief, said he was satisfied with the hard-fought deal.

"I think it was very meaningful that (the bill) to (manage) our money properly as politicians has come to an agreement," Yamaoka said. "We accomplished it as politicians, crossing the borders of political parties."

Under the agreement, the internal affairs ministry will also establish a third-party committee to audit the political funds reports.

Earlier in the year, key lawmakers, including then farm minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka, drew fire for their inability to explain enormous office fees. Amid allegations of wrongdoing and bid-rigging links, Matsuoka hanged himself in May.

Just two days after he died, the ruling bloc pushed through a law revision to make political fund-management bodies itemize all expenditures, excluding personnel fees, of ¥50,000 or more in their political funds reports and attach the receipts.

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The Japan Times

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