Double Jobs for Diet Members’ Secretaries: Hiring Local Assembly Members Disregards Their Local Duties

It just feels wrong. Some local assembly members, elected by local residents and responsible for solving local issues, concurrently serve as public secretaries, a position that supports Diet members.

It has been found that Taku Ikeshita, a House of Representatives member of Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), had for a time employed two members of the Takatsuki municipal assembly in Osaka Prefecture, his home turf, as state-funded secretaries. The two secretaries received both city assembly member remuneration and secretarial salaries, which has been criticized as double-dipping into public funds.

In addition, another lower house member of Nippon Ishin and lower house members of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan have been found to have hired city or town assembly members as their public secretaries.

The parties have announced that they will investigate the situation and correct cases in which local assembly members concurrently serve as public secretaries. However, it is alarming that such cases have been overlooked.

Public secretaries are national public servants in special service positions whose salaries are covered by public funds. A Diet member is allowed to employ up to three such secretaries because they are deemed indispensable for the sake of Diet management in that they assist the Diet member in the preparation of parliamentary questions and other tasks.

Meanwhile, local assembly members are required under the Local Government Law to perform their duties faithfully in accordance with the mandate given to them by residents. In addition to deliberating a draft budget, they are also involved in mapping out draft ordinances in local assemblies.

State-funded secretaries and local assembly members each have a significant role to play. If they are to fulfill their primary duties, it should be difficult for them to balance both.

It is clear that wearing two hats is inappropriate. It must be said that the Diet members who hired local assembly members as public secretaries are ill-advised.

In principle, public secretaries are prohibited from having other jobs. Following a series of incidents in which Diet members fraudulently pocketed the salaries of secretaries who were not actually working for them, a lawmaker-sponsored bill to revise the law on salaries for Diet members’ secretaries was enacted in 2004, banning secretaries from having other jobs.

However, there is an exception to this rule, which allows public secretaries to hold other jobs if a lawmaker gives permission. The cases that came to light this time, in which public secretaries concurrently serve as local assembly members, are not illegal because the lawmakers allowed their secretaries to do so. This is a situation that the law did not envision.

The ruling and opposition parties should reconsider public secretaries simultaneously holding other jobs. Those who are in positions that are not suitable for concurrently serving as public secretaries, such as local assembly members, should be excluded.

In recent years, there has been a serious shortage of people willing to be local assembly members. The government has been making efforts to alleviate this shortage. This year, it relaxed restrictions on local assembly members having other jobs to make it easier for people to run for election while working.

However, this issue must be considered separately from the issue of local assembly members, who are supposed to represent their communities, concurrently serving as public secretaries of Diet members.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 30, 2023)