Politicians hope you don’t notice when their pay goes back to normal
Six months is a long time, and considering all that has happened since the March 11 earthquake, the past half-year may seem even longer. So it wouldn’t be surprising if a lot of people have forgotten that the Diet passed a law shortly after the disaster to cut their own salaries by 30 percent for a period of six months. This gesture was on top of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s forfeiture of his own special prime minister’s allowance, not to mention the 10 percent additional cut in salary for all members of the cabinet as a budget countermeasure, which has been in force since the Yukio Hatayama administration.
Next month things go back to normal, and maybe the lawmakers are hoping the electorate has forgotten, but at least one person, Kenji Eda of Your Party (Minna no To), is determined that people will remember. On Sept. 27, during the budget deliberation talks, he asked Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda whether or not he would forfeit his prime minister’s allowance, just as Kan did, for the sake of reconstruction. Noda, of course, is expected to ask for a long-delayed increase in the consumption tax as a means to fund reconstruction, which, over the next decade, is estimated to cost ¥11 trillion. As it turns out, while Noda as a Diet lawmaker has had his salary cut 30 percent like everyone else, it seems he’s been receiving his prime minister’s allowance, calculated on a daily basis, in full since he took over from Kan. Noda answered that the cabinet would continue with the 10 percent cut but said nothing about his own pay.
This is notable in that one of the items in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto was a 20 percent cut in all personnel costs, covering pay and expenses of all government employees, politicians and civil servants alike. Had the DPJ actually carried through with that promise, they could easily come up with the ¥11 trillion needed for reconstruction. Of course, at the time the manifesto was made the savings were envisioned to pay off Japan’s debt, so by itself the 20 percent personnel expense cut isn’t enough.
Kan basically “returned” ¥930,000 a month from his salary, as well as the prime minister’s ¥2.18 million summertime bonus. With the additional cuts, he ended up taking home ¥794,000 a month, which may sound low for a world leader but isn’t too shabby in this economy. The other national lawmakers basically returned ¥500,000 a month from their salaries for six months, meaning ¥3 million altogether for each member, who make more than ¥20 million a year in salaries, not counting their almost limitless expense accounts.
Where the real savings would be is in cutting bureaucrats’ pay, and the DPJ proposed a law in May to reduce government salaries by 7.8 percent, which isn’t 20 percent but it’s a start. The main obstacle is Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Federation), which represents government workers. They’re demanding that the bill also return their right to negotiate pay, a condition that the opposition Liberal Democratic Party rejects. As it turns out, the National Personnel Authority, the government organ that oversees salaries, has its own proposal, which is to decrease civil servant salaries by 0.23 percent, which means each bureaucrat would make, on average, about ¥15,000 less a year. Bonuses, which average ¥3.95 million a year each, wouldn’t be touched. This would hardly put a dent in the debt.
Since Noda is considered a pawn of the Finance Ministry, it’s unlikely he’ll countenance such huge pay reductions. He has already demonstrated his stance on the subject with his flip-flop on the construction of the government employee housing in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture. On Sept. 26, Your Party submitted a bill to the Upper House for continuation of the reduction, but the deliberation committee did not even discuss it and the bill was scrapped. The Asahi Shimbun quoted one anonymous lawmaker who said, “I don’t receive political contributions from companies, so financially the reduction is difficult for me. I would prefer that the subject be dropped.” Newer politicians also complained to the paper that they had also faced financial difficulties for the past six months, but none would go on the record.