Tuesday, February 20, 2007

If the Meal Money for His Daughter Is the Only Thing Plaguing Mr. Omi, Then There's a Long Line of Politicians Who'd Love to Take His Place

This is a reproduction of the substance of a comment I posted here, which I learned of by way of this. (I originally tracked the Mutant Frog link down because I couldn't believe anybody was following the Japanese equivalent of C-Span. It seems to be a good blog.)

I've worked with Mr. Omi on a couple of occasions. He, like most people, has some strong points, as well as some weaknesses. As far as his English goes, he understands much and sometimes even most of what you can throw at him in English, as long as you avoid the colloquial and speak clearly and correctly. He can also express himself in English, as long as the audience is willing to tolerate what will at times be slow and idiosyncratic. He definitely needs and uses an interpreter for some of his more complicated thoughts. I know what Mr. Paulsen said, but are you going to take the word of Mr. Omi's political counterpart and born salesman, or mine?

Mr. Omi is also a headstrong, yes, willful man. Believe me, he can be difficult, even frustrating, to work with. But he has a weakness that you can exploit. He has a weakness for women. You see, Mr. Omi reportedly worships his mother, and is clearly devoted to his wife as well as his daughter and only child. This weakness seems to extend to his relationship with other women who have shown the ability to keep him under control by way of their what I can only call motherly instincts. Apparently, he finds tough-minded, intelligent women with a practical bent, literally, irresistible.

So, what Mr. Omi needs at his side when he goes abroad is a smart, strong-willed woman who keeps him grounded and fills in when his not-so-perfect English fails him. Unfortunately, there aren't many people, certainly no run-of-the-mill interpreters, who fit this bill and can be had for the price of a few meals and receptions. Besides, interpreters and their airline tickets and accommodations do not come cheap. So Mr. Omi did a great favor to the Japanese government when he took his daughter along on that trip at mostly his own expense.

Yes, Mr. Omi, if he had been more careful, could have asked for a separate bill for his daughter's meals, though it would have been very difficult to do that for the receptions. (How do you determine the cost allocable to an attendee at a reception?)

Of course, there must be reasons why this trivial matter was revealed and became an issue. My guess is, the bureaucracy is dissatisfied with the Okinawa graduate school he is pushing, as well as the way he is pushing it. (Although Okinawa and science and technology are his two great professional passions, the school seems to be running into political and practical difficulties, some of it predictable. And I told you he could be frustrating.) Moreover, his intentions may not be as pure as you would like. He has been grooming his daughter to take over the family business (he is 74 now, and pushed her unsuccessful candidacy for an Upper House seat in 2004), and he surely wants to give his daughter as much exposure as possible. But he certainly did it on the cheap from the government's point of view..

(caveat: Koji Omi is an ex-METI Guy, like me.)

3 comments:

Adamu said...

Thanks for the link. The Kokkai TV is something that's interesting to listen to in the background while I translate. I picked up on this issue mostly because I'm something of a Mabuchi fan and it happened to come up.

I guess Mabuchi brought up the issue of Omi's daughter first because it's easier to understand "for the housewives watching at home." But he was just getting started. Mabuchi indicated in his blog that he wasn't done questioning Omi last week, and his questioning yesterday continued on the same topic of the Okinawa university. Mabuchi accused Omi of a) Helping Okinawa companies that gave him political donation get 85% of the contracts for construction of the university; and b) Helping to secure national budget funds for university "facilities" in October when he served dual roles as MOF minister and an adviser to the steering committee of the organization that's setting up the university (which was itself originally a pet project of Omi's). (Link to news coverage)

As an outsider to the whole government process, this seems less than trivial but not exactly surprising. Since as usual there's no way to know precisely how Mabuchi got the information and the narrative he's putting to it, I'm willing to go along with your assessment. How ironic would it be if the man that landed Omi in the hot seat is the very Okinawa Development Agency official sitting next to him answering Mabuchi's questions?

Ken said...

I agree that it seems pretty trivial, but I get the sense that it looks bad, and I wonder - why didn't Mr Omi (or someone on his behalf) put up a defense like what's been written here?

Perhaps this is just a distraction tactic being used by the DPJ, in an attempt to drag anyone and everyone in the Cabinet into a scandal...but if so, why not nip it in the bud and demand time be spent on real issues? I think the LDP could hit back hard here...

By the way, MITI or METI or both?

Jun Okumura said...

Adamu:

You are welcome.

Anything is possible. That is the kind of information that could have come only from an insider.

Ken:

I have no idea why he didn't put up my kind of defense (counterattack, really). Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo governor, certainly did when Tokyo's use of his youngest son came under fire, and he had a much worse case to work with. Perhaps Mr. Omi should have sought my advice.

Seriously, the real issues are:
a) the viability of the institute of technology in Okinawa; and
b) the propriety of the alleged political finance contributions for the construction companies involved in its construction.

Q&A time in the Diet is predetermined. Better spend it discussing your language problems than the latter if you are Mr. Omi.

Since I don't know how much time they spent on this piece of political trivia, I can't be sure of anything. The party representative for that particular segment of the Q&A usually follows his own counsel in preparing the questions, and he's completely on his own once the Q&A begins. Some are better than others at this.

I spent the better part of three decades working for the government, so it was largely MITI.