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Friday, July 29, 2011

Utilities, LDP long held cozy ties

Party donations continued behind scenes despite '70s industry ban

Kyodo

The recent findings that current and former power company executives have been making huge political donations to the Liberal Democratic Party since the 1970s show the industry and party have long had cozy ties.

News photo
Vested interest: This collage of ¥10,000 bills, Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s corporate logo and the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant illustrates the cozy ties between the power industry and the Liberal Democratic Party. KYODO PHOTO

The revelations also indicate the difficulties the Democratic Party of Japan-led government faces in persuading the industry to back a new energy policy due to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

During its almost uninterrupted rule of more than 50 years, the LDP based the nation's energy policy on nuclear power.

According to an analysis of data released Saturday by Kyodo News, more than 70 percent of individual donations to the LDP's political fund management body in 2009 came from current or retired executives of nine of the nation's 10 utilities. All nine run nuclear plants.

Only executives of Okinawa Electric Power Co., which does not have a nuclear plant, did not make donations to the party.

The executives started donating money to LDP lawmakers in 1976, two years after the power industry supposedly put a stop to political donations amid public uproar against electricity price hikes.

Until the mid-1970s, power firms made corporate donations worth billions of yen annually to the People's Political Association, the LDP's fund management body. The financial and steel industries also made huge contributions to the party.

The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan worked as the power industry's fundraiser and its donations to the LDP peaked at ¥18.3 billion in 1973, a year ahead of an Upper House election that had huge implications for the power industry, as one of the key issues was electricity price hikes amid the global surge in crude prices during the first oil crisis.

Although the LDP won the poll, it lost a number of seats and dealt a major setback to then Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka — who has come to symbolize postwar pork-barrel politics — and the power industry. Tanaka was forced to declare an "end to elections requiring a lot of money" and the LDP scaled down political donations from companies. Utilities also declared a self-imposed ban on corporate political donations after many consumers started a movement to refuse to pay hiked electricity bills.

But these developments didn't stop the flow of donations — they just continued behind the scenes.

The first donations were made by executives in 1976, in amounts of ¥100,000 or more, according to government gazettes and securities report filings. Kyodo News cross-checked the names on the gazettes and executive rosters of power companies in the corresponding periods.

Data showed the sum of contributions by executives gradually grew from ¥17.88 million in 1979, five years after the self-imposed ban on donations, to ¥37.59 million in 1999.

From the early 1990s, executives from all nine companies started making donations, hinting at a concerted industrywide effort.

LDP Secretary General Nobuteru Ishihara said Tuesday the party must convince the public that its energy policy over the years has not been influenced by power firms' political donations.

"We must clear up misunderstandings, if any, that we favor power companies over the public," Ishihara said.

Filipino caretakers study

Kyodo

KESENNUMA, Miyagi Pref. — Twelve Filipino women have grouped together to study for an exam to work as caretakers in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, after they lost their jobs due to the March quake and tsunami.

A nonprofit organization, the Japan Association for Refugees, has supported the women's efforts by dispatching a teacher and providing funds for them to study at a vocational school in Iwate Prefecture for four months, beginning in August.

Many of the women used to work in the local fisheries industry, which was destroyed by tsunami.

The association had provided relief goods to the women after the disaster and decided to support their study after it heard they had lost their jobs and wanted to work as caregivers.

Data from Kesennuma show the city had about 100 residents from the Philippines before the disaster, most of them women married to Japanese men.

"We are studying hard to qualify to work as caretakers, and appreciate our luck in surviving the disaster," said Charito Ito, 37, who has lived in Kesennuma for 13 years.

The women gather at Ito's home to study topics necessary for the exam and develop their Japanese-language skills.

They began studying together at the suggestion of Marilou Iwatsuki, 38, who lost her job in seafood processing. "I want to work as a caretaker immediately after I qualify," she said.

¥12.8 trillion for Miyagi

Kyodo

SENDAI — Miyagi Prefecture has estimated that the prefecture and its municipalities will need ¥12.83 trillion for reconstruction projects over the next decade following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, local government sources said Wednesday.

The calculation came as the central government is set to announce its basic guidelines for reconstruction, under which the state will estimate that around ¥23 trillion is needed in 10 years.

The local government sources, however, said their latest estimate is not reflected in the state's guidelines and that the total cost will exceed ¥23 trillion when possible expenditures for reconstruction by other prefectures are included.

Miyagi plans to call on the central government to review its estimate, the sources said.

The costs estimated by the prefecture includes those to reconstruct buildings and remove debris as well as compensation for losses caused by the emergency at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant, the sources said.



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