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Editorial: Government still ignoring Japan’s fiscal woes at budget time

  • August 31, 2016
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 12:55 p.m.
  • English Press

In early August, the government set its basic policy concerning budget requests from government ministries and agencies, based on which the nation’s fiscal 2017 budget will be compiled.


“We will thoroughly review policy priorities, do everything to eliminate wasteful spending and boldly focus on the substance of the budget,” the government declared.


But for all these brave words, we are appalled by the government’s apparent lack of awareness of the dire, unprecedented fiscal straits confronting the nation.


Aug. 31 is the final day for government ministries and agencies to make their fiscal 2017 budget requests.


For the third consecutive year, their total budget requests topped 100 trillion yen ($970.57 billion).


This can be attributed largely to the government’s decision not to set a ceiling on budget requests and allow some budget requests to exceed the initial fiscal 2016 budget figures by nearly 20 percent.


Obviously, not all requests are going to be met. They will be screened and trimmed by the Finance Ministry.


Still, given the nation’s serious fiscal problems, all budget requests should have been made in keeping with the government’s basic policy, which went to the effect that every government ministry and agency “must thoroughly review and evaluate the performance results, efficiency and efficacy of its existing projects before submitting its budget request.”


But how did individual ministries and agencies proceed?


The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism requested more than 6 trillion-plus yen for public works projects, up 16 percent from the initial fiscal 2016 budget.


The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s request topped 1.4 trillion yen, including a special account budget, up 9 percent from fiscal 2016.


But the Reconstruction Agency, whose reconstruction projects in areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 have already peaked, requested a smaller budget than for fiscal 2016.


Still, most government ministries and agencies seem intent on maximizing their chances of securing as much funding as possible by requesting as much as they could.


Against this backdrop, what attracted our attention was the budget sought by the Cabinet Office for promoting Okinawa’s development. The requested amount of 321 billion yen was 14 billion yen less than in the initial fiscal 2016 budget.


Some people claim this reduction is meant to “restrain” Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, with whom the central government has been at odds over the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko district in Nago.


Dismissing this allegation out of hand, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stressed, “When compiling a budget, it is only natural to make constant efforts to ensure the implementation of effective policies by reviewing various expenditures as needed. And the budget for Okinawa’s development is no exception.”


If we are to take Suga’s words at face value, then we must ask: Have all government ministries and agencies made such “constant efforts” in regard to their budget requests?


Before the government started accepting budget requests for fiscal 2017, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved the second supplementary budget for the current fiscal year. With the additional issuance of construction bonds worth upwards of 2.7 trillion yen to fund more public works projects, the total came close to 3.3 trillion yen.


This is the same old pattern of using supplementary budgets as a “loophole” for spending more on items similar to those in the initial budget and letting the expenditures bloat.


One thing is certain. So long as the government continues with this sort of fiscal management, the nation’s fiscal health faces a long battle for recovery.

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