Political Reform

Ban on Influence Peddling

New Komeito persistently lobbied for and played a pivotal role in the passing of a November 2000 law that bars elected officials and civil servants from exerting political influence on a government agency on behalf of a private party for personal gain. A similar bill had been mulled by the ruling coalition comprised of the Liberal Democratic Party, the former Socialist Party and now-defunct Sakigake Party in 1998, but could not overcome internal opposition. The law's scope was expanded in July 2002 also after intense New Komeito lobbying, holding legislators accountable for influence peddling by their aides.

Political Contribution Control Law

A second key legislative piece passed by the coalition government at New Komeito's insistence to battle corruption cases, the law essentially limited individuals, institutions and companies to contributing donations to political parties, rather than individual politicians, to enhance regulatory oversight. In 2006, the law was revised by placing a ceiling of 50 million yen on contributions made by political support organizations, and mandating all such transactions be made through bank transfers. The law was amended again in June 2007, requiring these support groups to submit receipts for operating expenses of more than 50,000 yen to government auditors, and prohibiting them from acquiring real estate and other non-essential purchases with donated funds.

Barring Dango Practices

New Komeito was the principal architect and agent in the passage of a 2002 law banning a price-rigging practice to secure government projects. Known as Dango, an elected official or civil servant leaks confidential information on a public works project's estimated cost to a contractor bidding on the project, who then colludes with competing companies to ensure that its bid wins the contract. The colluding firms are rewarded as subcontractors or selected to win the next project, thus profiting a closely knit group of established players at the expense of newcomers, especially foreign bidders. Those civil servants who leaked the information were either compensated monetarily or given high-priced positions with a contractor after he retired from public service. Under the law first proposed by New Komeito, the government can levy stiff penalties on offending firms, including significant fines and injunctions preventing them from bidding on future government contracts. We then moved to strengthen the law's bite in 2007 by penalizing politicians or bureaucrats with prison sentences of up to five years and/or a maximum five of 2.5 million yen. The law has been particularly effective in ensuring compliance among Japan's largest general contractors in the construction industry.

Eliminating Perquisites for Parliamentarians

From April 2002, New Komeito—despite frenzied opposition from veteran politicians—put an end to the practice of paying 300,000 yen per month in travel expenses for retired parliament members that have served in the Diet for more than 25 years. We also halted payment of 1 million yen for lawmakers with similar tenure to have their own bronze busts created. In addition, retired Diet members serving for more than 50 years are no longer entitled to a 5 million yen stipend over his or her lifetime.

Diet Pension Plan Terminated

In April 2006, the coalition government adopted a New Komeito initiative terminating a special pension plan for national legislators. Diet members with less than ten years of parliamentary service are now entitled to a payout equal to that received by operators of small businesses subscribing to the national pension program, drastically reducing the government's share of paid-in premiums. Lawmakers were previously privy to lucrative pension packages that were clearly excessive and unfair.

Trimming Payroll

As part of the coalition government's commitment to streamlining public services, payroll and outlays, a law—which New Komeito was instrumental in shaping—that mandates an overall reduction in civil service payroll was enacted in June 2006. Under the law, government personnel costs as a ratio of GDP would be halved by 2010. Over the next five years, the number of civil servants in national government would be pared by 5 percent, while local government personnel would be trimmed by 4.6 percent.

Banning amakudari

Our party played a pivotal role in revising Japan's civil service law to prohibit amakudari, or the longstanding practice in which retiring government workers are hired, at the instruction of their superiors, by the companies and industry the outgoing civil servants regulated. amakudari is directly responsible for the collusive bid-rigging practice known as Dango to secure public works projects, which New Komeito has also cracked down on. Adopted in June 2007, the revision allows civil service employees to find post-retirement work by enlisting in a special placement service, thereby removing government agencies from the hiring process and enhancing overall transparency.

Cutbacks of Semi-Public Agencies

New Komeito was a major force in the passing of a 2001 law targeting semi-public organizations and other state authorized agencies—many of them either having outlived their usefulness or better served privatized—for elimination. While 163 of such entities once existed, 83 percent have since been either shuttered or spun off, either to the private sector or re-established as self-financed administrative bodies. In a five-year period since the law went into effect, it yielded a net savings of some 1.8 trillion yen in national outlays.

Public Financing Agencies Rationalized

Under a New Komeito initiative, of the eight state-funded lending institutions existing as of 2006, five will be reorganized into a single operation, two slated for privatization, and the remaining agency abolished altogether. The newly amalgamated government lender will focus on providing zero- and low-interest loans to smaller businesses, as well as to agricultural and fisheries industries. It will also underwrite projects to sustain or enhance international competitiveness of borrowers.

Slashing Special Accounts

Our party has been an ardent advocate of a comprehensive cutback on special accounts, which are kept separate from the general account and represent a massive public outlay (in fiscal 2005, for instance, nearly 412 trillion yen was earmarked for special accounts versus a gross total of 498 trillion yen). The 2006 legislative package to restructure the government's finances also mandated that the fiscal burden from the 31 special accounts in existence at the time be halved. A number of these accounts would be amalgamated, while others eliminated outright over the next five years. The cutback is expected to yield a savings of some 20 trillion yen, which would be allocated to help balance Japan's mushrooming national debt. The special accounts that survive the initial restructuring will be reviewed every five years for further amalgamation or abolition.

Divesting National Assets

The 2006 legislative package also calls for cutting in half the ratio of public assets to GDP by fiscal 2016, primarily through sales of government land and facilities, and the divestiture of state-owned cash surpluses. The sell-off will be carried out in conjunction with a wholesale strategic review of national assets and liabilities, and administered through specific mandates, including protecting taxpayers from shouldering avoidable cost burdens in the future.

Rationalizing roles and functions

In order to create a leaner, more efficient government that is more responsive to the needs of citizens, New Komeito adopted a concept developed by policy think tank Japan Initiative to redistribute government roles and functions. Enacted as law in June 2006, it requires existing regulatory operations to be analyzed, with those better suited to be carried out removed from national jurisdiction and transferred to local governments or spun off to the private sector. Areas identified as wasteful, redundant or obsolete will be eliminated.

An Era of e-Government

As one step toward New Komeito's goal of a comprehensive digitization of public sector services and procedures, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced in 2007 that it would issue microchip-embedded identity cards to individual subscribers of both the medical health insurance and disabled care insurance programs within five years. The new IC card will have the memory capacity to store the cardholder's medical history, reducing paperwork and redundant testing, and the data can be easily networked. Our party was the first to call for such card in 1989, setting up an in-house study group to hold hearings with the medical community, IT experts and local governments since 1991.