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Editorial: Japan PM's response weak on 1 mil. yen monthly allowance to Diet members

Calls have arisen for a review of a 1 million yen per month correspondence allowance that is paid to Diet members. In ordinary society this would be only natural, so why is the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) holding back?

    Opposition parties are calling for public disclosure on the use of the funds, but the LDP has expressed its reluctance to go ahead with such a move. Its stance defies understanding.

    The issue came into focus after Diet members who were elected for the first time to the House of Representatives on Oct. 31 were paid the full amount for that month even though they had only been in their positions for a single day.

    A rookie legislator from the opposition Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) drew attention to the issue, and legislators from both the ruling and opposition camps agreed that legal amendments were necessary.

    The correspondence allowance covers Diet members' document-related expenses from printing costs to the cost of stamps, as well as telephone bills. It is paid each month in addition to members' monthly salary of approximately 1.29 million yen and the bonuses they receive twice a year.

    Since no receipts are needed for spending from the correspondence allowance, there are no checks on how it is used. It could be used to supplement the remuneration paid to private secretaries or for other such purposes. Moreover, there is no obligation to return any amount that is left over. It is thus sometimes referred to as a "second salary" and has been acknowledged as a problem in the past, but the Diet has left the issue unaddressed for many years.

    Opposition parties, including Nippon Ishin and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, have now moved in succession to submit legislation that would require legislators to disclose how the funds are used and make it possible for leftover amounts to be returned to state coffers. This move is only natural.

    The LDP, however, is trying to dodge the issue by supporting only an amendment to calculate allowances by the day. Talks between the ruling and opposition camps have reached a deadlock with the LDP bringing out the reasoning that it "will take time to decide on standards for disclosure." It appears difficult for a legal revision to be made during the current Diet session.

    When it comes to private company expenses, it is common sense to attach receipts and calculate the actual amount spent. Even among local government assemblies, moves are progressing to disclose receipts for the spending of political activity allowances.

    If the expenses are nothing to hide, then there should be no problems for Diet members to disclose them.

    The LDP stresses that amendments should proceed with the consent of all factions, but if the LDP and its ruling coalition partner Komeito give their consent, then the matter should be settled.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida merely stated in the Diet, "Each party needs to make efforts to obtain a consensus," taking a half-hearted approach. Didn't he stress in the LDP presidential election that he would "ensure transparency" in the use of political funds?

    The correspondence allowance comes from taxes. If legislators want to restore public trust that has eroded over "politics and money" scandals, then they should first start with the problems at hand.

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