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2009年11月13日 (金)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 11(IHT/Asahi: November 12,2009)
EDITORIAL: Budget project review.

In moving to draw up the draft budget for next fiscal year, the Government Revitalization Unit starts work to categorize and review selected public projects.

Can this panel succeed in identifying wasteful budget expenditures and engineer the transition "from concrete to people" envisioned by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama? The outcome on this front will directly influence public opinion of the new administration.

Diet members from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, local government officials, economists and other private-sector experts are serving as the reviewers. They will hold discussions with bureaucrats in charge of each program to scrutinize the necessity of individual projects.

The goal is to slash 3 trillion yen from the record 95-trillion-yen budgetary requests from ministries and agencies for fiscal 2010. Under the review gun are 447 projects, or about 15 percent of all government endeavors. The panel's judgments will also be applied to other similar projects not on the review list.

Some projects are prone to be summarily dismissed as wasteful. However, each is characterized by its own reasons and objectives that benefit certain parties.

Projects will be assessed from the following points of view: Do the effects warrant the outlays? Is there any overlap with other projects within the bureaucratic sectionalism? Are the projects really necessary amid the current fiscal pinch? Should the programs be consigned to local governments or the private sector?
In pursuing this end, the panel members must have the insight not to swallow every explanation given by the bureaucrats.

Assigned this formidable task are seven DPJ Diet legislators headed by Yukio Edano, former chairman of the DPJ's now-disbanded Policy Research Committee, along with 56 private-sector experts and others.

These members must mobilize their specialized knowledge in respective fields while simultaneously determining if the projects are credible from the perspective of ordinary people.

Questions on the necessity of a project will also prompt reviews of the political systems used to determine the specific programs and the organizations that perform the work. Rather than merely cutting expenditures to meet the numerical target, the government should hold debate that leads to meaningful administrative reform.

The Finance Ministry, which had single-handedly scrutinized the budget requests, provided full cooperation in selecting the projects for reviewing. In the review phase as well, budget bureau officials will attend and express their views. All this work will go for naught, however, if the process becomes a front for Finance Ministry-driven budget cuts. To prevent this, independent initiatives of the reviewers are of the utmost importance.

Whether the results of the reviews are directly reflected in the draft budget rests on the final judgment of the Government Revitalization Unit, chaired by Hatoyama.

In examining the allocation of tax revenues to local governments, the government share of compulsory education expenses, host-nation support for U.S. military forces in Japan and other issues, attention will focus on the judgments delivered by the Hatoyama Cabinet as a whole.

Of special note is the decision to allow full public disclosure of the review process. While there are naturally limits on the number of observers at the actual meeting venues, the proceedings are being carried on the Internet. This makes it possible to monitor the process from anywhere with Web access.

Studies are also reportedly under way to devise ways to field opinions from the general public.

This means that live images of the hallowed budget-making process will be open to the people. As taxpayers, this is a golden opportunity to take a hard look at just how the money we pay is divvied up for use, and conduct our own reviews of the origins of democracy.


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