Work to Revive Top Legislative Body as Bastion of Free Speech

Reforms should be implemented to make the Diet a forum for policy discussions, not just to rework political funding.

The ruling and opposition parties have launched discussions on Diet reform.

Calls have emerged to improve the transparency of the use of the ¥1 million monthly allowance for research, study, public relations and accommodations — which was formerly called a “correspondence allowance” intended for documents, communications, travel and accommodations. The sum is paid to lawmakers separately from their salaries. Some are also seeking the abolition of allowances for the chairpersons of the standing and special committees in both Diet chambers.

Last year, the ruling and opposition parties changed the calculation of the correspondence allowance to be done on a daily basis. The purpose of the allowance was also effectively expanded from “sending documents and correspondence” to activities such as “research, study and public relations,” but a proposal to require the disclosure of how the allowance is used was shelved.

The allowance has been called into question because it has been used for such purposes as paying salaries for secretaries and buying goods. It makes no sense that disclosure of the money’s usage is not required even though it can now be used for a wider range of purposes. A system of disclosure, including requiring the submission of receipts, probably should be introduced.

A Diet committee chairperson receives an allowance of ¥6,000 per day, including Saturdays and Sundays, when the Diet is in session. As there are no limits on the use of this money, some committee chairs use these public funds to buy souvenirs during their overseas business trips.

The public has a harsh view of “politics and money.” It is crucial to review the allowance in keeping with the times.

It is commendable that the ruling and opposition parties are tackling Diet reform, but their review is clerical in nature and leaves much to be desired.

A debate between the prime minister and party leaders, a practice that was introduced to invigorate Diet deliberations, was last held 1½ years ago. The opposition parties are said to place more importance on question time at the budget committees, where they can pursue the prime minister for a longer period of time in a unilateral manner, than on debates between party leaders.

However, it is highly significant for the leaders of each party to discuss national policy issues from a broad perspective. Active use of party leader debates should be considered.

In recent years, less legislation has been deliberated first in the House of Councillors, prior to the House of Representatives. This is another issue that cannot be overlooked.

During an extraordinary Diet session last autumn, the ruling parties initially planned to put forth three bills in the upper house first, including comprehensive legislation to support the disabled. However, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other parties opposed it. As a result, no bills were deliberated in the upper house first.

The Diet will run more smoothly if the two chambers divide bills and deliberate them concurrently. The opposition parties are said to be reluctant to discuss bills in the upper house first because doing so would make it more difficult for them to manipulate the deliberation schedule to get certain legislation scrapped. It is unacceptable to treat bills as if they were tools for political sparring.

The authority of the Diet has also been shaken.

Upper house President Hidehisa Otsuji has issued a document calling on long-absent upper house lawmaker GaaSyy — whose real name is Yoshikazu Higashitani and who belongs to the NHK Party — to appear at the Diet. If GaaSyy does not comply, he will be referred to the Discipline Committee as early as this week.

Diet members have a responsibility to take charge of national affairs as representatives of the people. The ruling and opposition parties must not leave unchecked a lawmaker who abandons this role.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 5, 2023)