Delayed review of monthly allowance for Diet members fuels mistrust of politics

If the government continues to be lax in its handling of public funds, it will not be able to secure the public’s trust in politics.

A review of the ¥1 million monthly allowance that is given to Diet members to cover correspondence, transport, accommodation and other costs has been postponed.

The ruling and opposition parties had once agreed that the law on annual payments to Diet members from the national treasury would be revised, and that their allowance would be calculated on a daily basis. However, the opposition wanted to make it mandatory to disclose the use of the funds and for unused funds to be returned to the national treasury. As the ruling and opposition parties failed to reach a consensus, the law was not revised during the extraordinary Diet session.

Shouldn’t they have pushed ahead to change parts that they were able to agree on? The parties need to find common ground and revise the law at the ordinary Diet session next year.

The monthly allowance is mainly for sending documents and communication. As there is no need for lawmakers to attach a receipt, it is also referred to as a “second salary” and is not taxed.

Calls for a review were prompted by a member of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) who was elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in the Oct. 31 election. He questioned the fact that the monthly allowance is paid in full even if lawmakers are in office only one day of a month.

Reform of the monthly allowance has been a long-pending issue. The fact that a newly elected lawmaker had to raise the issue for it to be discussed is shameful.

A panel that was set up by the lower house speaker in 2001 to study the monthly allowance proposed that Diet members should report how the monthly allowance was used, attach receipts and make the information public, because the allowance is meant to be used for actual expenses.

Also, after the lower house election on Aug. 30, 2009, the issue of full payments of annual lawmaker salaries and the monthly allowance came up. However, at the time, it was decided that salaries would be based on a daily rate, but the discussion on monthly allowances was put on the back burner.

Yet again a legal revision to pay the monthly allowance at a daily rate has been postponed. This may be because both ruling and opposition parties do not really want changes made to the funds at their disposal.

Ishin has posted information online detailing how much of the monthly allowance its members spent. But, it is difficult to see the subsequent flow of funds if the money is used to make donations to relevant political organizations and fund other activities.

In recent talks with opposition parties on the monthly allowance, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party insisted that it would take time to decide to what extent the use of the funds should be disclosed, among other things.

There must be standards that the public can accept regarding the proper usage of the funds. In the age of the internet, lawmakers must also debate whether an allowance of ¥1 million a month is appropriate.

Political activities, such as researching policies and promoting them to voters, require a certain amount of money. It would be problematic if only people with enough financial resources were able to become lawmakers.

However, political parties get an annual total of more than ¥30 billion in subsidies. It is vital to increase the transparency of political funds as a whole and to continuously seek the understanding of the public.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 23, 2021.