Lost in the general languor and mental sloth of Golden Week, former Chief Cabinet Secretary and éminence grise Nonaka Hiromu spilled the beans in a major way on how the Liberal Democratic Party governments managed polish their images and get things done. In a parallel with former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Yoshino Bunroku's decision to come clean on his involvement in the negotiation and coverup of secret agreements made with the U.S. government over the reversion of Okinawa, Nonaka recently gave a glimpse into the way the Chief Cabinet Secretary could use the secret bank secret attached to the office for the purposes of "information gathering."
According to Nonaka, who served served as Chief Cabinet Secretary from July 1998 to October 1999, he would withdraw 50 to 70 million yen per month from the secret account to disperse to various persons. To the prime minister he would give 10 million a month, and to House of Representatives and House of Councillors Diet Affairs chairman he would each give 5 million a month - this in order to smooth the passage of legislation. He would also send aides to drop off packets of money at the offices of opposition politicians and, shockingly, political commentators and journalists. According to Nonaka only one of the latter, TV Asahi host Tahara Soichiro, ever refused to accept the money offered. Opposition lawmakers would ask for money prior to making visits to North Korea, in order make their visits go more smoothly.
Passing on secret account funds to opposition members in case they needed to bribe North Korean officials can be seen as falling under the rubric of information gathering. However, the belief that the Chief Cabinet Secretary's secret account was accessible for pretty much any kind of activity seems to have been widespread. Nonaka claims that one politician-turned-political-commentator telephoned Prime Minister Obuchi asking for 30 million yen as a celebratory contribution toward the building of a new home for himself, knowing that the money would be drawn from the secret account.
One has to wonder, given Nonaka's revelations, what the Hatoyama goverment's situation might be if it made as profligate use of the Chief Cabinet Secretary's account as it predecessors. The DPJ, when it was in opposition, roundly criticized the abuse of the secret account, assuming, seemingly quite correctly, that money from the account was being used to buy off opponents and paying off election expenses. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi was roundly criticized for at first absurdly refusing to admit that the account existed (Why he would do this, when his party had long demanded greater clarity regarding the account, taxes the brain) then for declaring that he would not disclose in any way how the money was being used. On Friday, however, the Cabinet revealed that it was returning unused secret funds to the general account, having somehow been unable to spend them.
The Hatoyama government may be suffering from teething problems not just because it is drawing less from the secret account but because it is using the funds in more in a more ethical and justifiable manner. From the way the Prime Minister has been ridiculed by the press since the very first weeks of his tenure in office, one has to guess that Hirano has not followed the precedent of using some of the funds from the account to buy off journalists.