Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba comes under fire at Diet session

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba answers a question at a meeting of the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee on Monday morning at the Diet.

Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba was grilled on Monday by opposition parties over his connections to the Unification Church and a political funds scandal at a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

Akiba apologized as he gave his explanations. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida again rejected a request from opposition parties to replace Akiba, but they seemed prepared to continue to press Akiba over these issues.

Akiba also explained his cancellation of a trip to Fukushima scheduled for Sunday where he was set to carry out an inspection, saying, “Since I thought I needed to explain things carefully at the Diet, I asked to change the schedule.”

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble by the sudden schedule change,” Akiba added.

Akiba spent the past weekend preparing for Diet deliberations. Following advice from senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Akiba kept his emotions in check and chose his words carefully as he responded to questions. However, opposition parties continued to press hard for answers.

As for Akiba’s links with the Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, evidence contradicting his claim that he had never been involved in the payment of membership fees in any form to the religious group was seen as a problem. After a Budget Committee meeting Friday, Akiba commented on the fact that an LDP branch led by him had paid ¥24,000 to an organization associated with the Unification Church as a “membership fee,” saying that the payment should have been recorded as a “magazine subscription fee.”

This issue was brought up by Kentaro Genma, a member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, at Monday’s lower house Budget Committee meeting. In response, Akiba explained, “I am asked by many people and organizations to subscribe to magazines for the purpose of maintaining social connections.”

Opposition parties also asked about the fact that one of Akiba’s sons had stood on the street wearing Akiba’s election sash during last year’s lower house election campaign. The Public Offices Election Law only allows candidates themselves to wear such a sash. In reply, Akiba said, “He took the sash off immediately after he was cautioned.” When the CDPJ’s Takao Fujioka asked about the illegality of the act, Akiba said after some hesitation, “I am not authorized to interpret the law.”

In the current Diet session, three Cabinet members have resigned in under a month. With less than two weeks left before the end of the Diet session on Dec. 10, a senior LDP member said, “If the so-called domino resignations continue, it will deal a fatal blow to the government. Akiba has no choice but to be patient.” At the Budget Committee meeting on the same day, Kishida again expressed his intention to retain Akiba in his current post, saying, “He has an important duty to fulfill his accountability to the Diet, along with his responsibilities as the reconstruction minister.”