• Kyodo

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A Kyoto Prefecture city has drawn interest from other municipalities for its system of reimbursing expenses to elected officials — and a viral video of a bawling politician may be to blame.

Kyotango, with a population of about 57,000, has adopted a reimbursement system for the costs of political surveys and research activities conducted by its assembly members.

Nationwide, such monies commonly are paid in advance.

However, recent revelations that members of the Toyama Municipal Assembly allegedly padded their political expenditures with fabricated receipts, has resulted in Kyotango receiving inquiries about its system from numerous municipalities, it said.

Kyotango has set an upper limit that assembly members can claim: In fiscal 2015, the limit was ¥180,000, of which ¥2.3 million, or 60 percent, of the total was actually spent.

In sharp contrast, the Toyama assembly doled out all of its funds for fiscal 2015 — some ¥80 million in advance — making it Japan’s sole municipality to do, according to the Japan Citizens’ Ombudsman Association. Twelve of the assembly’s 40 members have resigned over the scandal so far.

“It feels strange being told that our reimbursement system is ‘advanced’ as we arrived at it as a result of considering how political funds should be used and seeking to improve transparency,” said an official at the Kyotango assembly’s secretariat.

Kyotango originally did not give out political funds to its assembly members. It set up a panel in 2013 to implement a fund payment system.

The discussion was then affected by a scandal in which an assemblyman of neighboring Hyogo Prefecture misused political funds.

Ryutaro Nonomura, who became nationally known as the “weeping politician” for his hysterical appearance at a 2014 news conference over his dubious spending that went viral on the internet, was found to have pocketed travel allowances between fiscal 2011 and 2013 by faking business trips. He was given a suspended three-year prison term in July.

The incident prompted the Kyotango panel to prioritize transparency in its own political fund system, and the city subsequently adopted the cost reimbursement system in February 2015.

Under the system, assembly members pay for their activities out of their own pocket and submit reports and receipts twice a year to be checked by the assembly’s chair and secretariat staff, who can reject requests for payment.

“It is a progressive system . . . that can reduce unnecessary costs and make assembly members more careful” about their spending, said Satoshi Shinkai, the secretary-general of the Japan Citizens’ Ombudsman Association.

But Shinkai added there were limits to the system as well, noting it could not prevent payments based on fabricated receipts. “We need measures to respond to such manipulations,” he said.

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