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Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Entire Cabinet attends Diet audit session
Every politician scrambles for a piece of the budget pie to appease local voters, but few seem to care about how effectively the money is actually spent.
Such has been the tradition of Diet deliberations regarding the budget, with lawmakers treating the audit committees of the two chambers more lightly than the budget committees.
But faced with increasing public anger over the wasteful use of taxpayers' money, the Diet on Monday took a step toward correcting the situation by having the entire Cabinet attend a session of the House of Councilors Audit Committee -- a postwar first.
During Monday's session, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged to use the results of audit committee deliberations in the fiscal 2004 budget compilation process that begins this summer.
"It's the responsibility of the government to reflect (auditing results) in the next year's budget," Koizumi said.
Until recently, few Diet members have been seriously interested in examining past budget implementation, apparently believing it did not help win more votes or political donations. The auditing process has also seen delays due to the difficulty of getting Cabinet ministers to show up for committee deliberations.
It was this situation that forced the Upper House Audit Committee to complete auditing and authorizing the fiscal 1999 and 2000 budgets, which covered the two years to March 31, 2001, at the same time -- Dec. 11 last year.
The early start to the auditing session this year was proposed by an Upper House study group looking into ways to differentiate the chamber from the more powerful House of Representatives.
The House of Councilors is often chided as being a "carbon copy" of the House of Representatives, as most key bills are first deliberated in the Lower House, leaving little for the Upper House.
The Lower House also has stronger power in approving the budget. The Constitution stipulates that -- in the event that the two houses reach different decisions regarding a budget or when 30 days pass after the Lower House endorses it -- the final decision rests with the Lower House. This is one reason why the study group recommended that the House of Councilors focus on auditing.
Many observers have praised the reform efforts as a step toward strengthening public control over taxpayers' money, but some pundits worry that Upper House Audit Committee deliberations may serve as a showcase for political spats, sidelining substantial discussions on budget details.
Komazawa University Professor Hideaki Maeda said Upper House members try to attract public attention by inviting Cabinet ministers to deliberations, but auditing requires more laborious, time-consuming work to examine and cross check numerous budget entries.
"(The Upper House) should invite certified public accountants and focus on substantial discussions" instead of showing itself up through debates with ministers, said Maeda, a former high-ranking official of the House of Councilors secretariat.
Many lawmakers use the House of Representatives Budget Committee -- some of whose sessions are televised nationwide -- to discuss political scandals and other attention-grabbing issues, rather than the content of the budget.
"The House of Councilors should not do the same things as the House of Representatives," Maeda said.