Lawmakers’ pay cut for what?

The Democratic Party of Japan has proposed cutting Diet members’ salaries by ¥3 million annually in fiscal 2012 and 2013. The proposal came after the Diet enacted a special law to cut the wages for national public servants by an average of about 7.8 percent, also in fiscal 2012 and 2013. The public servant wage cuts will save about ¥290 billion a year, and the savings will be used for reconstruction of areas devastated by the 3/11 quake and tsunami or affected by the subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says that if national public servants have to bear such wage cuts, lawmakers also should share the suffering by reducing their salaries.

Mr. Noda’s intention appears clear. By showing that Diet members are also sacrificing, he is trying to get people to accept his planned consumption tax increase. But even if the DPJ’s proposal to cut Diet members’ salaries is implemented, it will save only slightly more than ¥2 billion a year. The gesture will amount to little more than a political performance to dupe people.

A Diet member’s monthly pay is ¥1,294,000. If twice-a-year bonuses are added, their annual pay reaches about ¥21 million. A ¥3 million cut will mean a reduction of about 14 percent. But in addition, a Diet member receives a monthly allowance of ¥1 million to pay for sending mail, using transportation and staying at hotels. They are not required to report how they have used this allowance. If this allowance is taken into account, the ¥3 million cut will mean a reduction of only about 9 percent. In addition to the salaries and the allowance, a Lower House member receives an additional allowance of ¥25.12 million and an Upper House member ¥26.10 million to hire up to three publicly-funded secretaries.

Among the parties, Komeito has a clear policy of slashing Diet members’ salaries by 20 percent. The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party oppose the DPJ proposal because, they say, it will serve as a step toward convincing people to accept the planned consumer tax increase. Still, many Diet members appear to be reluctantly accepting the DPJ’s proposal, fearful of public criticism.

Diet members should not forget that the most important thing is to do the work that merits their pay and allowances. This includes meeting the needs of the victims who continue to suffer from the 3/11 triple disasters.