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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010
Bolster waste-cutting effort
The Kan administration's Government Revitalization Unit on Nov. 18 ended the second part of a third round of budget screening. In the first part held in October, the body screened 48 programs in eight special account budgets, which are almost unknown to the public. In the second part, it re-examined 112 projects — which had been scrutinized in earlier rounds of screening held in November 2009 and in April and May 2010 — to determine whether the ministries and agencies concerned have actually terminated or scaled down them in line with the unit's earlier recommendations, which are not legally binding.
The unit this time concluded that 26 projects should be scrapped and that 16 projects should not be financed with public money. The screening shed light on how bureaucrats skirted around the unit's earlier decisions that some projects should be abolished or drastically revamped. One method used was to change the names of old projects and request new budgeting. As for some different but similar projects that the unit had recommended for integration, bureaucrats demanded a bigger budget after integrating them under new names.
These results underline the need for continued screening by the waste-cutting unit. Some senior vice ministers and senior secretaries of ministries, who are also Diet members, strongly opposed the unit's recommendations. Bureaucrats must change their thinking, and lawmaker-ministry officials must realize that their job is to strictly scrutinize bureaucrats' budget demands.
Senior vice ministers and senior secretaries who opposed the unit's recommendations say that projects in question are based on Cabinet decisions. Still, they need to consider whether the projects can achieve their purpose and whether that justifies their costs.
The Democratic Party of Japan's manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election stated that a strict review of the budget would save ¥16.8 trillion. The latest screening saved only about ¥300 billion. Finding necessary funding will remain a huge task for the Kan administration and the DPJ. They should study whether it would be worthwhile to give the unit sharper teeth by making its recommendations legally binding.