The Yomiuri Shimbun (Nov. 28, 2009)
Budget decisions rest with lawmakers
事業仕分け 政治家が責任持って決定を(11月28日付・読売社説)

The Government Revitalization Unit on Friday ended its nine-day budget screening session to identify wasteful spending in fiscal 2010 budget requests for government-led projects.

The unit judged that many of the 449 projects it examined should be abolished or downsized. The task force also demanded that some funds already distributed to independent administrative organizations and public-interest corporations be returned to the national coffers.

The money to be returned and savings raked in from the abolished projects outlined in the initial budget requests will top 1.6 trillion yen.

Although this is still short of the government's target of 3 trillion yen, the savings could be used as a precious financial resource for next fiscal year's budget.

However, the first attempt to broadcast part of the government's budget drafting process live on the Internet created many problems.

Some members of the unit's screening teams, comprised of lawmakers and experts from the private sector, basked in the public exposure and often played to the gallery, snapping at officials from the government organizations to give them explanations on the projects. It was appalling behavior.

The criteria by which budget examiners were chosen from the private sector also remain unclear.


Changes needed

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he plans to continue the budget screening in and after fiscal 2010. If so, we think it is necessary to revise the rules for running the session--such as by giving sufficient opportunities for budget briefers to answer questions and clarifying the standards by which budget examiners from the private sector are selected.

Many questions also have been raised about why some government projects were subject to the screening when it was obvious they could not be discussed properly in just one hour.

Projects that fell under this category included allocations for the so-called sympathy budget for U.S. military forces in Japan, the Foreign Ministry's support of international institutions and funding to promote science and technology.

These matters are all closely related to what the nation should be and its future. They cannot be solved so easily.


Science gets cold shoulder

Perhaps the biggest controversy during the screening was the panel's decision to effectively freeze the budget for a next-generation supercomputer project.

Nobel laureates and business leaders have poured scorn on this decision, saying that short-term cost-effectiveness was not the proper standard for evaluating science and technology projects. They also warned that Japan could eventually lose the global race to develop advanced technology.

We wholeheartedly agree with them. The unit might have lacked the strategic thinking needed to deduce what fields should be given priority in budget allocations from long-term and international points of view.

It was also regrettable that the unit decided to abolish a project to encourage children to read books.

Ill-advised judgments made by the panel this time around must be corrected in the future.

The decisions made during the budget screening session are not final. The government could treat them as a set of criteria for making decisions on the budget, but it should not be bound by them.

The responsibility for deciding how to treat the unit's judgments in the budget drafting process now rests in the hands of this nation's lawmakers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2009)
(2009年11月28日01時49分 読売新聞)