Incomes of Japanese politicians hit new low

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2005, 12:00am

Fewer perks and falling returns on their investments have hit Japanese politicians in the pocket over the past 12 months, with 651 members of the Diet announcing incomes that are down 5 per cent on last year to a new record low.

Japan's politicians have been obliged to come clean on their annual earnings since 1993, but their incomes averaged a mere 23.59 million yen ($1.64 million) in 2004.

However, their plight is unlikely to attract much sympathy from the public as the average Japanese salaried worker earned 5.43 million yen in 2004, according to a report by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, while a taxi driver only takes home 3.08 million yen a year.

'There are a whole range of factors at play here, including a reduction in allowances as the government tries to tighten its belt, and problems that are still affecting the economy and have obviously reduced donations from support groups and industries,' said Makoto Watanabe, of Hokkaido University's school of politics and international relations. 'But by Japanese standards, that's a lot of money.'

The biggest earner was Katsuyuki Ishida, of the opposition Democratic Party, who declared 186.42 million yen, the vast majority of which was from the sale of land. Nobody came close to the 700 million yen reported last year by Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Taro Aso.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi posted a respectable 38.17 million yen, down 1.65 million yen from the previous year.

The law requiring politicians to disclose their incomes affects only members of parliament in office for all of the past year, although the vast majority of the 747 in both houses have revealed their financial situations.

The rules have been criticised for failing to set a penalty for any lawmaker who is economical with the truth.

And even though their bank balances are less healthy than they have been for more than a decade, Mr Watanabe does not believe that will dissuade a new generation of potential politicians from entering the fray.

'Many of these people are independently wealthy anyway, or come from political families, so they're not doing it for the income,' he said. 'For them, it's more a prestige thing, although that is waning as the public gradually loses respect for them.

'The public is tired of political scandals and I think many people will be angry when they see just how much their representatives are making,' he added.