Tokyo Governor Ishihara is in trouble these days for a recent report released by the Japan Communist Party’s Tokyo chapter that reveals the extravagant details of Ishihara’s 19 official trips abroad. According to the Asahi’s report on the incident, the excessive use of public funds for these trips violates Tokyo’s spending rules, and they far outpace the spending of governors of neighboring prefectures. Here are some details of the trips in a bullet list so you don’t have to wade through the article:
Somehow the governor has claimed to be completely oblivious to the spending rules, according to Asahi: “It’s not a governor’s job to decide (how travel expenses are used),” he said. “I do not know much about the rules, but if there has been some deviation, I think it must be corrected.” What’s interesting is that he’s not being accused of misappropriating funds exactly, just overspending. The typical travel scandals involve situations like bureaucrats taking a few hundred thousand yen to go to Russia, but instead spending that time in Taiwan getting their groove on. Or more often bureaucrats will claim non-existent expenses (hotel rooms, taxi fare) so they can pocket the cash. But now with the growth of public scrutiny (and institution of a public information disclosure system similar to FOIA in the US), the Japanese opposition has come to a point where they now can complain that public trips are simply unjustified rather than grossly fraudulent.
Now, it’s no secret that the executives of major cities tend to travel a lot. The numerous inter-city exchange initiatives, conferences, official study tours of foreign policy programs etc offer tempting travel opportunities for internationally-minded mayors. Outgoing Washington, DC, mayor Anthony Williams was also famous for his many trips abroad, though no scandal ever arose over them that I’m aware of.
I’m a little surprised at how little English-language media attention the story has received given the man’s media darling status. The Western media have used Ishihara as an easy poster boy for Japan’s right wing given his tendency to make insane foot-in-mouth statements and other bluntness, but where are they now?