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Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009

New nonbureaucrat body starts cutting away at budget requests

Staff writer

Shifting away from the long-held practice of bureaucrats examining budget requests, the Government Revitalization Unit led by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Wednesday took over the task and began looking for ways to pare ministries' funding demands for fiscal 2010.

Amid a sharp fall in tax revenue, around 80 members of the body chosen from among the ruling coalition and the private sector will examine 447 public projects until Nov. 27 at a gym in Ichigaya.

This is the first time the review process is open to people other than Finance Ministry bureaucrats.

Recommendations by the panel are not legally binding, but they are expected to be reflected in the Finance Ministry's budget screening process toward the end of next month.

The administration is aiming in the review process to trim the budgetary requests by ¥3 trillion or more from an all-time high of ¥95 trillion. It then plans to draft the 2010 budget around late December.

"We must eliminate wasteful spending, no matter what. You can expect us to do it and we will do it," Hatoyama said.

Yukio Edano, a Lower House member of the Democratic Party of Japan and one of the key assessors, vowed to meet the public's expectations for the new review process.

"Many people, the taxpayers, expect a lot out of our review," Edano said before the day's work got under way. "We would like to steadily respond to various expectations of the people."

The body will examine the budget requests based on whether the project is really necessary, whether the project can be transferred to local governments or the private sector, whether the project needs to be implemented next fiscal year, and whether there is any room for spending cuts. The screening process is open to the public.

For the review process, 447 projects were categorized into about 210 budgetary requests.

On the first day, three working groups reviewed 23 budget requests and decided to abolish or cut some of them.

The unit found that a ¥518.8 billion sewage project by the land ministry should be transferred to local governments in a way that enables them to decide on the need for sewerage systems in their rural communities.

The panel found was it deemed an unnecessary ¥20 billion in adjustment expenses requested by the land ministry to resume landscaping projects that have been halted.

It demanded that the existing remuneration for medical services, for which the health ministry has requested ¥9.36 trillion, be reviewed. The funds were sought in a bid to reduce the income disparities between physicians in high-paying private practice and those working at medical institutions.

Also on the chopping block were projects to construct ports and coastal facilities and budget requests to enhance public health and help children learn to read. Some projects to be screened could be politically sensitive, including expenses footed by Japan for host-nation support for U.S. forces.

Funding requests for some government-affiliated organizations were also under scrutiny. Among them, the body concluded ¥12 billion for the National Institution for Youth Education and the National Center for Teacher's Development should be shouldered by local governments or nonprofit organizations.

Information from Kyodo added

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The Japan Times

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