Lawmakers Draw Fire For Expanding Own Expense Accounts
TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s lawmakers have just given themselves fatter expense accounts - at a time when public outrage over money scandals involving politicians is at an all-time high.
In a bill passed this week, lawmakers raised their monthly allotments for printing, telephone and other expenses from $6,500 to $8,700.
″Common sense tells you it’s too big a raise when we’re in the middle of a recession,″ said Shusaku Yoshida of the Communist Party, the only party that opposed the bill.
Lawmakers wrote the bill themselves - a rare event in Japan, where ministry bureaucrats write most legislation.
Parliament official Takuseki Okumura said the increase was well-deserved, and pointed out that the last increase in expense allotments was in 1988.
But he acknowledged that it came at a time when many Japanese are angry about political corruption and skeptical about what happens to their tax dollars.
The measure became law on Monday, the day fallen political kingmaker Shin Kanemaru, who had been jailed on tax-evasion charges, was freed on bail.
″It just happened that the timing was too perfect,″ Okumura said.
Kanemaru, 78, rose to power using his connections with the construction industry and ministry bureaucrats in charge of allocating public spending.
Authorities say he amassed huge hidden wealth in the form of cash, bonds and gold bars. They suspect much of it was payoffs from construction companies.
Both the governing Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition parties are debating political reform in the current parliamentary session. But such debates, which follow each of Japan’s recurring scandals, have done little to end graft.
Some politicians, however, argue that allotting more public funds to lawmakers could help curb corruption. Many legislators now depend on corporate donations and cash payments from older legislators for campaign and other funding.
In addition to the $8,700 expense payment, legislators have a monthly income of $11,000 and office fees of $5,600. They also get an annual bonus of $69,000.