The extraordinary session of the Diet that wound up Dec. 21 provided the first opportunity for the ruling and opposition parties to lock horns since the Lower House election in October.
During the session, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito used their majority to pass a draft extra budget for fiscal 2021 worth an eye-popping 35.9 trillion yen ($320 billion).
However, the budget plan itself leaves much to be desired as 60 percent of the funding relies on debt in the form of bond issuance. It also includes projects that have nothing to do with pressing COVID-19 pandemic response measures.
Given that the session lasted for only 16 days, many pending issues were shelved.
Restoring the Diet’s function as “the citadel of discourse,” a concept that was marginalized under the administrations of Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, is slowly taking root. The Diet’s true worth will be tested during the next regular session slated to begin early next month.
One pending issue put on hold due to scheduling problems between the ruling and opposition camps concerned moves to revise a 1 million-yen monthly allowance paid to each lawmaker to cover transportation, communication and miscellaneous accommodation expenses, or “buntsu-hi” for short.
Both camps agree on the need for a legal revision to put payments on a per diem basis and do away with the absurdity of lawmakers getting the full monthly amount for just one day’s work.
The allowances are dubbed a “second wallet” that politicians can effectively dip into freely because there is no requirement on disclosure of how the money is spent.
Three opposition parties–the Japan Renovation Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai), the Democratic Party for the People and the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan–introduced a bill requiring that all expenditures be disclosed. But the ruling coalition rejected the bill, thereby scuttling the proposed change to per-day payments in the process.
The transparency of the flow of political funds is crucial to the public’s trust in politics. But in failing to even nail down how buntsu-hi are spent, the Diet further diminished its credibility.
The ruling coalition’s move came across as a desperate attempt to protect the privileges of politicians.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida exacerbated the issue by acting as if it was not his problem even though he pledged to “guarantee the transparency of the movement of political funds” during his LDP presidential election campaign.
We urge Kishida to assert his leadership as party president by calling for disclosure before the start of the regular session of the Diet next month.
During the extraordinary session, more details emerged about the way officials at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism manipulated fundamental statistics used by the government for important economic indicators.
Kishida promised to establish a third-party investigative committee and release the results within a month. This was in response to questioning by both ruling and opposition party members about the background to the scandal, the ministry’s motives and how he intends to recover the government’s lost credibility.
The Diet must bear this in mind during the next regular session so that it discusses the matter thoroughly and gets to the bottom of this scandal.
In a lawsuit brought against the government by the widow of an official of the Finance Ministry’s Kinki Financial Bureau who killed himself after being forced to falsify official documents concerning the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, the government effectively “admitted the justness” of the plaintiff’s case by offering to pay her about 107 million yen in damages.
The plaintiff’s lawyers denounced the government for shutting down the case to prevent the truth from coming out.
Kishida, however, merely repeated in the Diet that he would “continue to live up to his accountability in earnest,” and dismissed the opposition camp’s demand to call the parties concerned to testify in the Diet, saying that was “something for the Diet to decide.”
The extraordinary session was also affected by the main opposition CDP’s efforts to be seen as a party that prioritizes policy-making. This resulted in lackluster questions and answers concerning the “negative legacy” of the Abe and Suga administrations.
This, too, is a grave matter that is being carried over to the regular session of the Diet.
–The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 22