Sunday, October 21, 2007

National Defense Twofer:Minister Wants Procurement Done His Way, and Seiji Maehara Denies Ichiro Ozawa

One of the quirks of Japanese defense procurement is that trading companies have traditionally acted as go-betweens for foreign vendors in their dealings with the Self-Defense Agency (now the Ministry of Defense). This is why trading companies showed up in the center of the 1976 Lockheed bribery scandal, which took down a Prime Minister (Kakuei Tanaka), a Transport Minister (in Japan, although the Grumman-Lockheed battle for the JSDA next-generation fighter was at the core of the controversy, the criminal case revolved mainly around government influence on the procurement of civilian aircraft by Japanese airlines), the Marubeni CEO, and a host of other lesser political figures and businessmen. (It also spawned the New Liberal Club, the first of the so-far unsuccessful challenges to provide a viable alternative to the LDP.) They were also featured in the 1978 Grumman/McDonnell-Douglas bribery scandal, which threatened to implicate LDP politicians, before the investigation petered out the following year after a key witness, a senior executive in the trading company Nissho-Iwai (now part of Sojitsu), committed suicide, leaving many questions unanswered. Raizo Matsuno, the one Diet member whose career was derailed by the scandal, managed to escape prosecution. Things have changed little, if the latest scandal is any indication.

Shigeru Ishiba, the LDP defense otaku, doesn’t like this state of affairs one bit, and has long been an advocate of taking the trading companies out of the procurement process and dealing directly with vendors. Now, as Minister of Defense, he is in a position to do it. And, as luck would have it, the Takemasa Moriya scandal gives him the opportunity to do something about it, and he vowed this morning on the Sunday Project, the must-see program for Japan politics otakus), to do just that.

It will not be an easy task; the bureaucracy will be required to do a lot of homework that the trading companies had been doing for them, and people do not become smart overnight. Less significantly, foreign vendors will have to face the consequences of the American Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (1977) or the EU equivalent thereof. But the establishment has no choice, since corruption is something that the public can wrap its mind around, and the extension of the refueling operations, on which so much of the Fukuda administration’s credibility depends, will turn on how Mr. Ishiba handles not only Takemasa Moriya (under the bus, drawn-and-quartered, Class A War Criminal), but the broader issue as well.

The silver lining for the LDP in the latest defense procurement scandal is that it does not look likely to implicate anyone beyond the bureaucracy. In that sense (and that sense only), it is more like the Defense Facilities Administration Agency scandal, where it came to light that former DFAA officials employed by construction firms and other vendors had been at the center of widespread collusion in bidding for DFAA contracts. The DFAA was fully folded in the Self-Defense Agency as a consequence, allowing the mainstream JSDA bureaucracy to rein in the somewhat autonomous DFAA.

I suspect that there are some people out there who are wondering, what are the political prospects of Shigeru Ishiba if he saves the day? For my two bits: zero chance of becoming Prime Minister. He’s a one-trick pony, and defense wins only in the NBA.

Mr. Ishiba’s DPJ soulmate Seiji Maehara joined him on Sunday Project. Think Romeo and Juliet, without the sex. Yes, they argued. Three things caught my attention:

Mr. Maehara stated at least twice that the DPJ has never claimed that the OEF-MIO operations are unconstitutional and that Ichiro Ozawa’s views are his personal opinions, nothing more. This is, of course, not what the public is hearing from Mr. Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama, his DPJ deputy and two-time party head.

Mr. Maehara gave the lack of proper governance and civilian control, citing the long string of JSDA/MOD misdeeds (he mentioned corruption in the JDAA, the Winny information leaks, 800,000/200,000 gallon discrepancy, missing ship logs, and possibly one or two others; Shisaku should have the video tape) as the main reason for opposing extension. As for the 800/200 K, he repeatedly said that it was one thing to say that there had been mistakes back then, but the refueling activities are crucial to Japan’s national interest and quite another to claim that nothing was amiss and demand that the extension be passed under that premise. This is, of course, not what the public is hearing from Mr. Ozawa and Yukio Hatoyama, his DPJ deputy and two-time party head.

Mr. Maehara would not say that the DPJ would submit a bill on Japanese participation in ISAF, no matter how hard Sōichirō Tawara, the ugliest emcee this side of the Crypt Keeper, pushed him. Only an outline; that seems to be the limit for Mssrs. Ozawa, Hatoyama, and Maehara. For now.

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