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Jul 8

Japan’s 1 mil. yen monthly allowance to Diet members conceived as free mail privilege – The Mainichi – The Mainichi

This image shows part of a document drafted by GHQ to make recommendations to the Japanese government about Diet reform. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Japan's 1 million yen (roughly $7,400) per month correspondence allowance paid to Diet members is under fire, with calls rising to revise the stipend. But debate on how the money is used has been put off with the end of the ordinary Diet session ahead of the July 10 House of Councillors election. The Mainichi Shimbun reflected on the history and origins of Japanese lawmakers' so-called "second salary," which was originally envisioned as a system to allow them to send mail for free.

The system began in 1947. Though a fixed sum is currently paid in advance to all Diet members, the original vision for the correspondence allowances differed from how it is run today, Graduate School of Social Design professor Jun Kitajima has found. A document created by the occupying Allied Powers' General Headquarters (GHQ) provided the evidence.

The correspondence allowance had been specified in the Diet Law as payments "for mailing official documents and for communications of an official nature." While the amount was 125 yen per month at the outset, it ballooned to 100,000 yen in 1963, and to 1 million yen in 1993. The allowance's name has also changed throughout the years. In effect, there are no limits on how the funds can be used, and lawmakers have no obligation to disclose how they were spent, making the allowances a de facto extra salary.

Moves to reform the system gained momentum after a rookie legislator and others drew attention to the issue following the Oct. 31, 2021 House of Representatives election, when first-time Diet members were paid the full amount for that month even though they had only been in their positions for a single day. Although the correspondence allowance's distribution method was changed so payments would be made on a per diem basis, it also got the new name of "survey, research, public relations and accommodation allowance," allowing legislators to add "interactions with the Japanese public" as objectives for their distribution. Observers have questioned the move, saying that how the money is used will become even more ambiguous.

The allowance system's origins can be traced to 1946, when Japan was under Allied occupation following World War II. Along with the issue of the postwar Constitution, handling of the Diet Law, which specified how the Diet is run among other regulations, was a key concern for GHQ. Historians believe that the root of this concern was the Diet's inability to prevent the Japanese military's rash actions during the Pacific War, and GHQ crafted a draft to improve the country's legislature. On Sept. 3, 1946, Justin Williams, chief of the GHQ government section's legislative division, drafted a document called "Problems of the Diet under the Revised Constitution" as "recommendations as a minimum."

Kitajima found the draft among microfilms in the National Diet Library collection. He was able to find the sentence, "Franking privileges will be accorded Diet members for sending through the mail public documents printed by order of the Diet and any mail matter of an official nature." "Franking" is the right to send mail through the postal system for free. And Kitajima believes the passage is the origin of today's correspondence allowances.

Williams later wrote in a publication that the franking privilege for legislators was "a device for encouraging closer contact between Diet members and their constituents." This means that the system was originally envisioned as a way to make official mail free, instead of an allowance distribution.

The Diet Law was enacted in May 1947, following GHQ's recommendation. Article 38 specifies that members shall "receive allowances, as provided for separately, for mailing official documents and for communications of an official nature during a session," departing from the original vision.

The ambiguous nature of the allowance's use has been deemed problematic before. In 1959, when it was raised at the Constitution Research Commission, the then House of Representatives' Legislative Bureau chief commented, "Since a franked mail privilege took a great deal of effort, a correspondence allowance began to be distributed to Diet members."

However, it was not made clear what was "a great deal of effort" about a franked mail system. Kitajima said, "If they're claiming that making calculations each time is troublesome, this is a conception at the time of the system's onset. Exact costs can be easily identified today, through credit cards, electronic money, and other means." There seems to be room for improvement.

Though campaigning for the upper house election is underway, there has hardly been any debate over the correspondence allowance. Kitajima commented, "Many political parties do not touch on it as a crucial issue, but the public must be watching whether politicians are capable of reform with sacrifice. I'd like people to judge the weight of politicians' words, not limited to discussion on the allowances."

(Japanese original by Akira Iida, Tokyo City News Department)

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Japan's 1 mil. yen monthly allowance to Diet members conceived as free mail privilege - The Mainichi - The Mainichi

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