While deliberating on a bill to revise the Local Autonomy Law during the last Diet session, the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party, People’s Life First and Komeito suddenly added a clause that would expand the scope of research expenses provided by local governments to assembly members.
Through the revision, the name of this expense category was changed from policy affairs research expenses to political activities expenses. It will become possible for local assembly members to use the money for a wide range of activities.
So far, citizens in various parts of Japan have filed requests with local supervisory audit committees for auditing the use of policy research expenses by particular local assembly members or filed lawsuits asking for the return of used expenses to local governments. This is because some local assembly members use policy research expenses for dubious purposes.
It is clear that the parties that inserted the revision clause during the Diet deliberations were trying to curry favor with local assembly members because a Lower House election is expected to be held in the near future. This was selfish behavior on the part of these parties as it deepened people’s distrust of politics.
The Diet spent only a few hours deliberating on the clause in question. The clause was not originally included in the bill to revise the Local Autonomy Law, submitted by the government.
The main pillar of the government’s revision bill was reduction of the number of local residents’ signatures needed for a plebiscite to dismiss local government heads or to dissolve local assemblies.
Past examples of the dubious use of policy research expenses by local assemblies include spending the money on parties, payment of salaries for relatives hired as secretaries, payment of rents for buildings rented by local assembly members, purchase of books not related to policy research activities and payment of money to organizations having connections with local assembly members ostensibly for policy research purposes.
The clause passed by the Diet will allow local assembly members to use political activities expenses for such purposes as trips to central government organizations to ask for subsidies and attendance at counseling meetings for citizens and meetings to exchange opinions with citizens.
The clause prohibits use of the money for political party activities, election campaigns and private use. The clause also calls on local assemblies to enact by-laws to specify areas for which political activities expenses can be used.
It will be important for citizens to carefully watch local assembly deliberations on the by-laws to find out whether they ensure transparency and accountability.