Govt must avoid haste when trimming waste
It is crucial to thoroughly cut the wasteful use of taxpayer money by independent administrative institutions. However, medium- and long-term strategic perspectives are most important and should never take a backseat to a short-term cost-effectiveness view.
The Government Revitalization Unit, which is tasked with cutting wasteful public spending, on Friday began its second round of discussions to screen state-funded programs.
During the four-day round, the unit will scrutinize 151 programs at 47 independent administrative institutions that are under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet Office and nine ministries, which are among the 104 such institutions overseen by the government. The panel will judge whether the programs should, for example, either be abolished, have their budgets reduced, or be transferred to private organizations or local governments.
On Friday, the first day, panel members called for budget cuts and a review of the management structure of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, saying the institute has been spending too much on office expenses in connection with the opening of its planned graduate school and on employee salaries.
On the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is charge of dispatching Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and providing the government's official development assistance to other countries, the reviewers concluded JICA needs to further cut employee salaries, overseas allowances and travel expenses. The panel also judged that JICA should return its unused assets to state coffers.
It is an urgent task to review the cozy relationship among government ministries, independent administrative institutions and other corporations. Currently, in a practice known as amakudari, retiring bureaucrats parachute into positions at independent administrative institutions that have relationships with their former offices, or officials of independent administrative institutions take jobs at related companies and corporations after retirement. In return, independent administrative institutions, companies and corporations receive orders for programs with favorable conditions in the form of discretionary contracts, or they receive subsidies.
In cases where similar programs are being carried out by separate independent administrative institutions or by the institutions and local governments, abolishing or integrating the institutions or transferring the programs to local governments would help implement programs more efficiently and correct redundant administrative efforts.
Meanwhile, the unit should be cautious about reform that is mere number-juggling, namely integrating or abolishing science and technology research and development corporations without thorough consideration.
Some cases need more funds
There must be instances in which more, not less, budgetary resources should be allocated, if they are judged essential from the viewpoint of increasing international competitiveness, which is indispensable for a nation that relies on science and technology.
The unit's program screening is foremost a method that has produced a degree of good results in cutting wasteful budgets in local governments.
However, it is outrageous and unreasonable for the panel to draw its conclusions by majority rule after less than an hour of discussion on the fate of state-funded programs, which are extremely costly and complicated, and have an impact on the entire country.
As in the unit's first screening last autumn, in which fiscal 2010 budgetary requests were scrutinized, the current round is fully open to the public and is being broadcast live on the Internet.
Amid the free-falling approval rating of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the government and ruling Democratic Party of Japan apparently have the ulterior motive of using the program screening as a tool to pump up the administration's public image. However, any attempt to make the screening a political show, which only plays to the gallery, must not be tolerated.
The government plans to compile a draft for reforming independent administrative institutions next month at the earliest, based on the conclusions it reaches during the current program screening. The government should conduct calm and prudent discussions before forming its final conclusions.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 25, 2010)