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26 juin 2012 2 26 /06 /juin /2012 05:40

Political activities by local civil servants must be curbed

Central government officials face criminal penalties if they engage in political activities, but there are no such punitive provisions for local government officials. Is there any rational explanation for this?

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has raised this question. He plans to submit a bill to the Osaka City Assembly in July to establish an ordinance that would restrict political activities of city government officials. The mayor initially considered including a provision that would ban all political activities by city officials and criminally penalize violators.

In response, the central government adopted a view at a Cabinet meeting that stipulating punishment in an ordinance restricting political activities of local government officials violates the Local Civil Service Law. As a result, Hashimoto had virtually no choice but to remove the punitive clause from the bill.

According to the government view, the Local Civil Service Law, which was enacted in 1950, did not include a criminal penalty clause because the government concluded when drawing up the legislation that administrative discipline would be enough for violations of restrictions on political activities.

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Few activities regulated

In fact, few political activities by local government officials are subject to restrictions, and in any case violators are not penalized. However, political activities by central government officials are strictly restricted based on the National Civil Service Law and rules set up by the National Personnel Authority. Violators face imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 1 million yen.

Why are the two groups handled so differently? The government's explanation that disciplinary actions are enough to deal with violations by local government officials is inadequate.

Irrespective of whether they work for central or local governments, public servants must maintain political neutrality. Given that decentralization of power will progress further in the future, local government officials will be required to become aware of and assume responsibility for their political activities just as central government officials are.

Against the backdrop of Hashimoto's bill are interventions by the labor union of city government officials into elections, which could be described as excessive.

Up to 2003, the labor union worked as one of the support groups for successive mayors in election campaigns. In the Osaka mayoral election last year, executives of the labor union distributed election campaign handouts that were not approved by the city's election administration commission. The handouts called for voting for the then incumbent mayor, an act that appeared to be excessive.

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Teachers problematic, too

In addition, there are problems involving teachers.

In Yamanashi Prefecture, it came to light that a political organization comprising the labor union of teachers and school officials in the prefecture as well as other groups were involved in collecting political funds in an organized manner for the House of Councillors election in 2004. In the House of Representatives election in 2009, the labor union of teachers and school officials in Hokkaido illegally provided political funds to the election campaign office of a Democratic Party of Japan candidate.

Political activities by public school teachers are restricted just as those by central government officials are. But they are not subject to penalties. This omission presumably is behind such political activities by school teachers and officials.

To restrict activities of civil servants that are not part of their jobs, we believe it would be effective to strengthen restrictions of such activities by establishing punitive clauses.

The DPJ is supported by the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union and the Japan Teachers' Union. Will the party remain reluctant to create punitive clauses in the Local Civil Service Law and the special law on civil servants engaged in education?

Ruling and opposition parties must deepen discussions on regulating political activities by local government officials and consider revising the relevant laws.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 25, 2012)

(Jun. 26, 2012)

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