Local municipal assembly members are duty-bound to be primarily engaged in reflecting local policy issues in the municipal administration and monitoring the municipal administration on behalf of busy citizens. In reality, however, most proposals for ordinances are submitted by the head of the assembly and these submitted proposals, including budgets and settlements, are for the most part approved without modification. There are very few cases where the assembly exercises its policy planning function. It is essential to reform local assemblies in order to avoid criticism by citizens to the effect that local assemblies are unnecessary.
1. Hold Basic Municipal Assembly Meetings at Night and on Weekends and Provide Compensation on a Per Diem Basis!
In making the proposal for the reform of local assemblies in 100 Actions, we are aware that, following the introduction of the Dō system, the roles of basic municipalities and dō assemblies will have to change.
1) [Election of assembly members] Instead of the major constituency system adopted by many basic municipalities where the entire municipality is regarded as one constituency, the medium constituency system should be adopted to make it easier for assembly members to cooperate with each other and for policy-oriented parties to function effectively. The standard number of assembly members should be set at one per 10,000 people and the maximum number should be changed to about 50.
2) [Work schedule of assembly members] A system should be designed so that “ordinary” general citizens are elected as assembly members. For example, in many areas, the majority of citizens are salaried employees. To help ordinary citizens balance their regular employment with their activities as an assembly member, assembly meetings should be held no more than 100 days per year and generally at night and on weekends and public holidays.
3) [Remuneration of assembly members] In many European countries, local assembly members receive no remuneration. In order for a local assembly to be comprised of representatives of ordinary citizens, I would propose that assembly members basically work on a volunteer basis, with remuneration of no more than 30,000 yen per diem (3 million yen for 100 assembly meetings per year).
2. Dō Assembly Must Execute Management as a Responsible Decentralized Government!
1) [Election of assembly members] The Dō government is to be responsible for implementing economic policies from a global perspective and addressing policy issues, such as the establishment and improvement of large-area infrastructure, which have heretofore been responsibilities of the national government. It is therefore considered appropriate to adopt a medium constituency system based on the current system where a prefecture (to, dō, fu, or ken) is regarded as one constituency.
2) [Work schedule of assembly members] The Dō assembly is to oversee policy issues that are addressed by Diet members under the current system. It is appropriate to regard them as professional assembly members and adopt a regular meeting system, under which assembly meetings are held on weekdays.
3) [Remuneration of assembly members] The role of the Dō assembly is to generate profits for the entire Dō government. To fulfill this role, the assembly should be comprised of highly skilled experts, rather than representatives of different areas or specific occupational or interest groups. A certain level of status as an assembly member should be guaranteed, including appropriate remuneration for assembly members and salaries for policy staff paid for out of public funds.
3. Reform of the Relationships among Assembly, Administration, and Citizens
1) [Guarantee of transparency] Ensure the compliance by municipal governments throughout Japan with the Individual Mediation Prevention Ordinance, which requires the disclosure of all records of contacts between assembly members and municipal government staff.
Under the Ordinance, a system should be established by all municipal governments in Japan to require all contacts and requests made between assembly members and municipal government workers be recorded and made public.
2) [Citizens’ participation] Expand citizens’ participation using the internet!
The responsibility for helping citizens make their voices heard by the municipal government has been regarded as a responsibility falling exclusively on local assembly members. Today, citizens can communicate their thoughts directly and easily via the internet. For example, the online gathering of signatures for petitions on Change.org, which was launched in Japan in 2012, has had a significant impact, particularly on the administration of basic municipalities, with which citizens have close connections. If citizens can make their voices heard by the municipal government on their own using the internet, the role of assembly members should be regarded as that of monitoring the performance of the assembly head. It would be therefore be sufficient to provide them with remuneration for assembly meetings held at night and on weekends on a per diem basis.
These reforms should remove sources of distortions of local assemblies that have been the subject of criticism.