Can pension for local assembly members ease shortage of aspirants?

The Yomiuri Shimbun Measures are needed to broadly secure more people who would aspire to careers in local politics. Should a new move have such an effect, it will be worth considering.

The Liberal Democratic Party is aiming to pass in the current Diet session a lawmaker-drafted bill that will allow those local assembly members — currently able to join only the national pension system — to subscribe to the employees’ pension system. More than 1,000 local assemblies have approved proposals calling for relevant legal preparations.

The average monthly remuneration of members of municipal assemblies of towns and villages is about ¥210,000, which is less than that of the members of the Tokyo metropolitan, prefectural and city assemblies. Most of them hold side jobs in addition to their assembly duties. It is difficult for them to support themselves on their official remuneration alone, a high hurdle for young people who might otherwise run for their local assembly.

In the races for the municipal assemblies of towns and villages, held in the simultaneous nationwide local elections in 2015, more than 20 percent of the winning candidates ran unopposed. It is even possible the percentage will rise further in the nationwide local elections slated for next year. The lawmaker-drafted legislation has an understandable aim: to guarantee to a certain degree these local assembly members’ lives after retirement.

Under the local assembly members’ pension program, which was abolished in 2011 by the then Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, the qualifications for receiving this pension were easier to obtain compared with those for a public pension program, and the amounts of benefits were higher.

The Diet member-drafted legislation this time regards local assembly members as members of a mutual aid association of local government employees and will grant them eligibility for subscription to the employees’ pension program. If monthly income from a side job exceeds the remuneration given to an assembly member, this eligibility will not apply. This can be considered a realistic system that utilizes the existing pension program while taking into account criticism of perquisites for politicians.

Lower barriers to entry

The payment of premiums is divided equally between local governments and assembly members, with the defrayal of public funds calculated to be about ¥20 billion.

There is strong resistance to the idea among opposition parties, which cite such reasons as a sizable tax burden.

But local assembly members have a role to play in promoting measures that are rooted in the local community and related to livelihoods of local people. The perspective that democracy requires certain costs should not be lightly dismissed.

Needless to say, not only the improvement of their treatment, but also the removal of various barriers for people to enter local politics are important.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has been discussing with experts how municipal assemblies of towns and villages should be and will compile a report as early as March.

In order to make it easier for women and young people to run for local assembly seats, it is necessary to promote flexible management of the assembly by, for instance, holding sessions at night and on holidays, while at the same time making an arrangement for the childcare leave system. Easing regulations against assembly members holding certain side jobs will also become an issue that needs to be discussed.

Voters have taken a critical view toward local assembly members. There has been a series of cases of fraudulent receipt of public funds meant for political research activities. At the municipal assembly of Toyama, 14 members were forced to resign. Eradicating malpractice and making effective use of such funds to contribute to their inquiries and research are major premises for improving the treatment of local assembly members.

The pension program for Diet members was abolished 12 years ago. Some LDP members are calling for the revival of the pension program for national legislators. While taking into account the trend of public opinion, this issue should be discussed carefully.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 13, 2018)Speech


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