National | Regional Voices: Chugoku

Do city assembly members need two tablets each? Concerns grow in Hiroshima over tax waste

Chugoku Shimbun

This fiscal year, the Higashihiroshima Municipal Assembly handed out second tablets to all of its 30 members, at a cost of about ¥6 million.

All members already had one tablet, but the move came after council members complained it was hard to see multiple documents at the same time on a single device.

Other city and town councils in Hiroshima Prefecture have introduced tablets, but none of them provides a second one. However, public spending watchdogs say that one device should be enough and argued that Higashihiroshima council members simply may not be taking full advantage of one tablet.

In April 2015, the assembly bought Apple Inc.’s iPad Air 2 tablets, each costing ¥58,000, with public money and loaned them to 30 members for a total cost of ¥1.74 million.

The city has converted council meeting materials to digital formats, making deliberations of the council and committees all paperless. The assembly secretariat says the savings in printing and mailing costs over the course of four years amounted to ¥5.4 million.

On the other hand, some assembly members then grumbled that just having one device hampered their work. Others said the assembly should pursue a thorough paperless goal as some council members still print materials.

A council conference system can minimize materials but cannot display multiple documents at the same time, according to the assembly secretariat.

Last October, the assembly’s administrative committee, composed of seven major factions out of nine parties, decided to buy the second tablets. Following the assembly election in May, the assembly gave each member an upgraded iPad Pro, each costing about ¥140,000, for a total cost of about ¥4.2 million.

An assembly member who welcomed the second tablet said two tablets are often useful in comparing a supplementary budget with the original budget.

“I can take a look at a document and look up terms that I don’t understand on the internet immediately, so it’s convenient,” the assembly member said.

On the other hand, one young assembly member called it a waste of taxpayer money.

“If they need to look up something, they should use their smartphone,” the assembly member said.

Another council member confided the second tablet is usually left at home. Some assembly members stack paper documents next to the tablet.

“I thought one device was enough, but a second device made things much more convenient,” said assembly Speaker Koji Norikoshi, 64. He hopes that the council’s discussions will become more lively and active thanks to the benefits of having second tablets.

Out of 23 cities and towns in Hiroshima Prefecture, 11 municipalities including Kure, Onomichi and Hatsukaichi have introduced tablets to their assemblies.

The secretariat of the Kure assembly said there are absolutely no calls in the city for spending a fortune on second devices.

“Why is the second tablet needed?” wondered an official at the secretariat in the Fukuyama assembly.

Satoshi Shinkai, a 58-year-old lawyer who also serves as the secretary-general of a Nagoya-based national citizens ombudsman organization, criticized the Higashihiroshima assembly’s justification for buying the additional tablets.

“Tablets are increasingly used in courts, but I’ve never seen lawyers use two devices,” Shinkai said. “One device is supposed to be enough to do business. I can’t help but think that it’s another instance of council members’ extravagance.”

This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published on Sept. 25.

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