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Diet to call NGO supervisor Onishi as unsworn witness on Mon.

TOKYO, Feb. 26 Kyodo

The House of Councillors' Budget Committee decided Tuesday to summon next Monday as an unsworn witness Kensuke Onishi, supervisor of a group barred from attending an Afghan aid conference in Tokyo last month, to testify in the case, lawmakers said.

The committee initially planned to summon Onishi on Thursday, but as Onishi, the overall supervisor of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Peace Winds Japan (PWJ), said he will not be able to attend the committee session that day as he is in Iraq, the opposition called for the postponement until Monday next week.

The ruling camp conditionally accepted the new schedule and the opposition agreed to the conditions -- that they will not ask for further postponement if Onishi cannot return from Iraq in time for Monday's session and will cooperate in starting smooth deliberations on the fiscal 2002 budget, according to the lawmakers.

In this regard, PWJ sources said there is only a fifty-fifty chance of Onishi arriving back in Tokyo by next Monday.

There is a possibility that the committee will only have Yoshitaka Funato, chairman of Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation's board of trustees, as an unsworn witness to hear about the relationship between NGOs and the government at Monday's session.

The committee already decided to summon Funato as an unsworn witness, as recommended by the ruling camp.

The PWJ and Japan Platform, an umbrella body consisting of many groups funded in part by the Foreign Ministry, were initially barred from the Jan. 21-22 Afghan aid conference. Onishi serves as leader of Japan Platform.

The focus of Onishi's summoning is expected to be whether or not ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Muneo Suzuki exerted pressure on the Foreign Ministry to bar the two groups from the aid conference.

In reference to the issue, Onishi earlier said, ''A senior Foreign Ministry official contacted me saying 'House of Representatives member Muneo Suzuki is angry'.''

Onishi also earlier released a note in which he said he was called by Suzuki via the ministry and was told that aid to his group will be cut.

The opposition parties had demanded Onishi, Suzuki and former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, among others, be summoned as unsworn witnesses and said that if they were not summoned, the parties would not respond to deliberations on the fiscal 2002 state budget.

Last week, Tanaka and Suzuki gave conflicting testimony during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session investigating whether Suzuki had inappropriately influenced the ministry decision over the groups last month.

LDP sources said Monday the LDP has decided to go along with a request for Suzuki to testify in the Diet as a sworn witness.

The case led to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi firing Tanaka and then Vice Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami on Jan. 29, saying their dispute over the case had held up Diet business.

On Jan. 24, Tanaka said that Nogami told her Suzuki's pressure played a role in the ministry's decision to ban the groups from the Afghan conference. Nogami, however, denied Tanaka's statement.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Mar 4, 2002
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