The extraordinary Diet session to be held on 3 October should focus on a re-examination of the state funeral of the late former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which was held despite a bitter split in public opinion.
Members of Parliament should also seek to clarify the relationship between politicians and the Unification Church, now officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.
The diet must also address pressing policy challenges such as dealing with rising prices, which directly affect people’s daily lives.
Another urgent need is to improve responses to the COVID-19 pandemic based on lessons learned from the seventh wave of infections, which has swept the country in the past few months.
There should also be meaningful discussion on another important question – how to inject transparency and accountability into the ways MPs spend the 1 million yen ($6,900) in fixed monthly allowances earmarked for research, travel and communications expenses.
These allowances are paid to members of parliament in addition to their monthly stipend of about 1.3 million yen.
The ruling party and the opposition agreed to take a decision on the issue during this year’s regular Diet session, which ended in June. But no decision has been made.
The legislature failed to honor the agreement amid growing public criticism about money’s role in politics due to a series of scandals involving cabinet members in Abe’s administration, including vote buying and bribery issues.
The package of “Documents, Communications, Travel, Accommodation” or “buntsu-hi” for short has become a target of criticism because it is hidden behind a thick veil of mystery.
There are no clear standards or criteria for use, and MPs are not required to disclose how they spend the money. There is no system of independent audits to determine whether or not funds have been used properly.
Lawmakers are not required to return unspent allowances to state coffers.
The money is said to be used by MPs to pay their secretaries, buy tickets for collectors, money held by fellow legislators and pay for eat-and-drink sessions with supporters.
The allowance package has been described as a “second purse” to give MPs money that they can use freely.
The ruling and opposition parties agreed to review the allowance program after last fall’s lower house election as a rising lawmaker from Nippon Ishin (Japan’s Innovation Party) questioned a rule that the full amount is paid even for a month when members of parliament only work once. day.
In April of this year, the Diet passed a bill to review the law for the payment of allowances per day. But no progress has been made in work to address the fundamental challenge of ensuring transparency and accountability for the use of allowances.
The revision of the Act redefines the purposes of the allowances from payment for expenses for “transmitting public documents and for communications of a public nature” to funding expenses for “activities such as research and study relating to national policy, public relations, interactions with the public and residencies.”
The title has also been changed to the allowances for “Research, Study, Public Relations and Accommodation”.
But the new extended objects do more harm than good. It can be used to endorse the use of allowances to pay for eating and drinking sessions under the pretext of “interacting with the public” and to pay private secretaries’ salaries as “research and study” funding.
Effectively expanding the scope of expenditures that the appropriations will cover does nothing to prevent questionable and dark ways of spending money unless lawmakers are legally required to disclose how the money is spent.
The two main opposition parties – the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and Nippon Ishin – recently agreed to “struggle together” over six issues in the extraordinary parliament session, including legislation requiring lawmakers to disclose how they spend their monthly allowances as well as helping victims of shady selling and donation practices to the Unification Church and others .
While the largest and second largest opposition parties have made clear their commitment to addressing the issue, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has remained reluctant to embark on program reform and its position is now on the line.
In recent weeks, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has reiterated his pledge to “return to my original mentality”.
If he is serious, Kishida should exercise effective political leadership to ensure that the allowances program is reformed during the upcoming Parliament session as a step to secure the transparency of political funds.
This was one of the promises he made during his campaign for the party leadership elections.
– Asahi Shimbun, September 30
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