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Friday, Nov. 6, 2009

DPJ flip-flop: Cabinet fund stays secret

Hirano's vault: ¥1.4 billion was budget for '09


Staff writer

The secrecy of the Cabinet's controversial discretionary fund will be maintained, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Thursday, contradicting the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's call to disclose the way the shady ¥1.4 billion is used.

The balance and its specific uses "will not be made public" because disclosure could run against the national interests and affect other political parties, Hirano told reporters. The fund, for which ¥1.4 billion was budgeted for 2009, is "used to exchange payments to collect necessary information for the government," he said.

Hirano's statement proves old habits die hard, even in a fresh administration that campaigned on promises to bring change and openness to the government.

The fund, formally called the "kanbo hoshohi" (secretariat rewards) but dubbed the "kimitsu-hi" (secret fund), is a budget allocation the chief Cabinet secretary is allowed to use freely and reportedly without submitting any receipts.

Previous administrations claimed the fund was used to "smoothly implement" government duties. But it is widely believed the cash went to pay off lawmakers, including those in the opposition, for shady political purposes.

During a TV news program in 2001, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Masajuro Shiokawa admitted he used the money "to deal with opposition parties at the Diet." Shiokawa later retracted his words in the Diet, saying he "had forgotten" what he said on the program.

The DPJ, which took the reins of government in August, submitted a bill to the Diet in 2001 to oblige the government to keep records on how the fund is used and disclose them to the public. But Hirano, who has acknowledged taking over the vault from his predecessor, Takeo Kawamura of the Liberal Democratic Party, said the Cabinet will not honor that policy.

"It is true that we made such statements in the past," but the nature of the fund makes it difficult to release specific details, he said Thursday.

Hirano vowed to use the fund in a responsible manner and added the Board of Audit will be checking his use of it when it is allowed.

The secret slush fund has long been a lightning rod for criticism, with billions of tax money free to be used for any purpose without any paper trail or public disclosure.

For example, documents submitted to the Hiroshima District Court in 2004 revealed ¥220 million from the vault was used in 2000 to pay then Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa. The reason for the payment wasn't disclosed.



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