Politicians’ pay: Even more than you think

December 13th, 2011 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Hirohisa Fujii, head of the Democratic Party of Japan's tax panel, listens to recent panel deliberations about a proposed tax hike to pay for reconstruction. (Kyodo photo)

In October we talked about how national assembly members’ pay was going back to normal after six months of pay cuts in the wake of the March disaster. At the same time, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda failed in its attempt to cut civil servant pay by 7.8 percent because Rengo, the union federation that represents government workers, demanded reinstatement of collective bargaining rights as a concession, which the opposition Liberal Democratic Party wouldn’t go for, so the measure was defeated in the Diet. Because Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan was pushing for the 7.8 percent cut it postponed the voluntary 0.23 percent cut proposed by the National Personnel Authority, so in the end bureaucrats are getting paid the same amount they’ve always been paid. Actually, they’re getting even more since last week they received bonuses that on average are 4.1 percent higher than they were last year.

The government pay situation is a huge PR problem for the administration, since it’s about to ask the public to accept a tax increase to pay for reconstruction. To put things in the proper perspective, the basic monthly salary for a Diet member is ¥1,294,000 and his/her yearly bonus amounts to ¥5,530,000. According to the national tax agency, the average salaryman working for a private company in Japan earned ¥295,000 a month in 2010, and received yearly bonuses of ¥580,000. So on an annual basis, a national politician receives more than ¥21 million and a salaryman a little more than ¥4 million.

But there’s more. Each lawmaker is allowed ¥1 million a month for tsushin kotsu taizai-hi (communications, transportation and lodging expenses). This allowance is supposed to be spent on anything having to do with sending documents to or communicating with constituents on matters of a “public nature,” which basically describes anything a politician does. However, lawmakers are not required to submit receipts showing how they spent this money, so that’s an extra ¥12 million a year, tax-free.

Also, if the politician belongs to a parliamentary group that is working on a specific issue, he/she can receive an extra ¥650,000 a month in legislative administrative expenses (rippo jimuhi) while the group is operating. Working parliamentary groups are seen on TV questioning various ministry officials, often in tag-team fashion because everyone in the group should have the chance to show the TV cameras that they’re actually doing something for that money. And if one is asking a question, another can stand by and hold a chart.

One of the more controversial perks is salary subsidies for secretaries. The government pays for up to three office secretaries per lawmaker, at a rate of ¥8 million a year per secretary. This money is not paid to the secretaries themselves but to the politican, who presumably passes it on to the secretaries. However, there have been a number of cases where politicians received the money and withheld a portion before paying the secretary. Probably the most famous case was DPJ Diet member Joji Yamamoto, who admitted to keeping more than ¥25 million of this money for himself in the late 1990s. Though he ended up spending more than a year in jail, the practice of withholding funds for the “office” is considered to be widespread. In many cases it’s done above board. For instance, a lot of politicians hire family members as secretaries, which makes it difficult to determine if the money actually goes to the secretary. And a politician can have his/her secretary sign a kind of waiver saying that the secretary is voluntarily accepting less money. For some reason the state pays the full amount to the politican anyway.

On top of all this, all national elected officials receive free JR passes for first class “green cars” on the shinkansen when they travel between Tokyo and their constituent districts. If the shinkansen doesn’t go near the district, then they can receive airfare for up to three round-trips a month; or four if the politician doesn’t have a JR pass. In a recent Tokyo Shimbun article, the reporter asked rhetorically why politicians need free passes when they already receive transportation expenses as part of the tsushin kotsu taizai-hi. Lastly, if the Diet member does not have a residence in Tokyo, he or she can live in the special apartment building in Akasaka: 82 sq. meters for only ¥92,000 a month. And if the politician doesn’t feel like taking the free shuttle bus between the residence and the Diet building, he has free access to the motor pool: 133 cars for the lower house, 97 for the upper, for which the government spends ¥20 million a year to maintain.

So altogether each lawmaker costs the country more than ¥60 million a year, and that doesn’t count seito joseikin, or political party assistance funds, which were created so that political parties wouldn’t take donations from private companies. Except for the Japan Communist Party, all take this money, which totals about ¥30 billion a year. That means you, as a taxpayer, contribute political funds whether you like it or not; which, of course, doesn’t prevent companies from donating to politicians. Executives of private companies can legally donate as individuals; in fact, it’s common knowledge that executives of Tokyo Electric Co. for years automatically had these funds deducted from their pay by the company. Most likely, they didn’t even notice it.

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One Response

  1. This article fails to address the fact that those pay cuts will impact all the way down the ranks of the public service. The average public servant, @ike my husband are barelu bringing in the averahe salary for the private sector that was wuoted, and that’s with overtime. What little of it there is. Politicians and publically elected officials are one thing, the lower ranks of the public service is quite another. Keep cutting the saleries of the first responders and see how things go next disaster and the one after that.

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