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Editorial: Japanese politicians' receipt of COVID subsidies shows gross lack of ethics

It recently emerged that a political group headed by Nobuteru Ishihara, a former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), received 600,000 yen (about $5,300) in employment subsidies last year under special relief measures for businesses to offset the impact of the coronavirus. For a political figure, this displays an appalling lack of ethics. The discovery prompted Ishihara to resign from his recently appointed post of special adviser to the Cabinet.

    Last year a political group headed by Toshitaka Ooka, state minister of the environment, similarly received 300,000 yen under the measures. Ooka explained that this was to protect the employment and salary of his private secretary.

    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that this was "legal" but added it was "understandable that the public has doubts about it." Kishida does not intend to sack Ooka, but can the state minister remain in his important government position while public distrust simmers?

    The employment subsidies are designed to save business operators from having to let employees go due to declining sales. Under special measures, if sales or production volume for the most recent month decrease by 5% or more, then the government will subsidize leave allowances paid to employees.

    Political organizations can receive the subsidies if they employ people who are covered by employment insurance. Ooka explained in the Diet that his "office activities decreased." But he didn't provide any concrete indices or figures. Was it not the case that administrative screening was lax when he received the subsidy payment?

    Political groups of legislators belonging to the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP) and the LDP's ruling coalition partner Komeito also received subsidies under a separate system to support parents taking time off from work due to the temporary closure of schools amid the pandemic. However, political party branches involved in public matters are unlikely to win public understanding for receiving government aid.

    Political party grants were also paid amid the coronavirus crisis, with the amount last year reaching 17.2 billion yen (approx. $151 million) for the LDP and 3.9 billion yen ($34.2 million) for the CDP. Legislators' political party branches are receptacles for such funds. Funding for political activities should be covered by parties.

    Both Ishihara and Ooka's political groups had large carryover balances, and it is doubtful whether they really needed the subsidies.

    The subsidy system is for people in difficult circumstances, and when Diet members involved in creating laws easily apply for such programs, it raises a question of morals.

    A series of "politics and money" scandals are causing distrust. All Diet members who received the subsidies plan to return the funds, but they continue to stress that the receipt of the subsidies was "legal." If politicians think they can do anything as long as it is not banned by law, then they are deviating greatly from the public's common sense.

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