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Lawmakers’ per diem payments under scrutiny

Date Posted: 2009-03-26

The Okinawa Prefecture Assembly is now studying how much money its lawmakers receive in travel expenses, joining a nationwide move toward curbing unnecessary costs.

Okinawa politician-lawmakers are the lowest paid of Japan’s 47 prefectures, earning only ¥760,000 each month, but prefecture officials say the annual ¥50 million earmarked for their per diem claims must be curbed. Although 39 of the nation’s 47 governors have weighed in on the travel expenses compensation issue, Okinawa’s governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, has not.

Lawmakers are entitled to compensation for travel costs while attending business meetings or make official visits to other communities. How those travel expense entitlements are calculated is the concern of Assembly members trying to control budgets in this economic downturn. Lawmakers are currently paid a flat sum of ¥8,000 per day in travel expenses, without regard to actual costs.

Opponents of the system charge that an Assembly member who lives a ¥500 bus ride away from the Assembly Hall should not be entitled to the now-automatic ¥8,000 daily payment. “Here in Okinawa, people say nothing in the way of complaint about this cost,” says the Prefecture Assembly Secretariat’s Office, “so we just made a new budget. Most people don’t even know about Assembly members’ salary and payments, much less about the other compensated expenses.”

Osaka’s new mayor has approved a new rule ordering zero travel expenses, telling the lawmakers they get enough salary to attend meetings. Already, 39 governors have begun reviewing the reimbursements practices of their assemblies. Prefectures are plagued by lagging revenues and budget shortfalls, and lawmakers want to balance their budgets by eliminating waste. One Okinawa official asked why so much was being paid out, noting that several years ago there had been a scandal involving a lawmaker who submitted false receipts to increase his reimbursements. Okinawa Prefecture currently pays travel expenses in four categories that range between ¥8,000 ~ 16,300 per day.

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