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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2007

Diet unites to tighten politicians' funding rules


Staff writer

With money scandals marring the image of lawmakers, the Diet passed a bill Friday to increase the transparency of political funding by obliging them to disclose all expenses other than salaries.

Political analysts credit a divided Diet for the step forward. With the Upper House now controlled by the opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc no longer has a free hand to make merely cosmetic changes to a loophole-filled funds law.

The revised Political Funds Control Law was approved by all of parties except the Japanese Communist Party and will take effect on Jan. 1.

The new law "is not bad and can be called an achievement from the viewpoint of disclosure and transparency," said Tomoaki Iwai, a political science professor at Nihon University and a specialist in political funds.

"But (the lawmakers must keep in mind that) this is not the end but merely the beginning" of a better system to manage political funds, he added.

The ruling bloc called upon the opposition camp to draw up the bill together.

Representatives from all six parties began to hold meetings in November, and after weeks of discussion, all but the JCP came to an agreement over the revision.

The revision "is the blessing of a divided Diet," Iwai said. "Both (ruling and opposition) parties kept each other in check and (the law) turned out to be a relatively good one, definitely better than what the LDP originally had in mind."

The LDP had been reluctant at first to disclose all expenses, citing freedom of political activities, but it finally gave in to the demands of the other parties.

"We lost public trust over politics and money in the (July) Upper House election," said Tsutomu Takebe, who headed the LDP project team on political funds. "That's why (we decided) there would be no more lies, nonsense and mistakes regarding political funds."

The new law will require political organizations related to Diet members to submit receipts for all expenses over ¥10,000, excluding salaries, and political funds reports to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry or prefectural election commissions. For expenditures of ¥10,000 or less, the groups are required to keep the receipts and disclose them in principle upon request.

"I think it is rather realistic that (the political parties drew) the line at ¥10,000," Iwai said, noting that the receipts for purchases of ¥1 or more, as earlier proposed, would be too overwhelming for the public to keep track of anyway.

But at the same time, Iwai expressed concern that the groups are limited to only those related to lawmakers. According to Iwai, it is estimated that such groups make up only about 5,000 of the 70,000 political organizations currently existing in Japan.

"In a way, (these political organizations) are based on a self-declaration system," Iwai said. "Because the rest of the groups (unrelated to lawmakers) are not obliged to disclose (expenses), there is the danger that a politician could deny ties with the group and make that a loophole."

Under the new law, the internal affairs ministry will also establish a special third-party committee that would audit the political funds reports. A new system would be introduced to have certified public accountants check the reports and receipts before they are submitted.

Iwai, however, expressed concern that details of how much authority will be given to this committee are not yet clear.



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The Japan Times

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