Japan keeps budget for lawmakers’ trips abroad despite pandemic

31-Dec-2021 Intellasia | JIJI | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Japan’s draft budget for fiscal 2022, starting in April, includes JPY 562 million in expenses for overseas fact-finding trips by lawmakers, almost unchanged from previous years, despite almost all such travel having been canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With many international exchanges held online, lawmaker junkets are viewed critically by some as wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money due to lack of clear achievements.

In parliament, however, few members are clamoring for a drastic review of the programme.

Overseas fact-finding trips by lawmakers are intended mainly for viewing advanced projects firsthand and for exchanges with local dignitaries.

In the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, the directors of each committee from ruling and opposition parties go abroad in a group. Some believe that such trips have the benefit of nurturing stronger ties between ruling and opposition party lawmakers who travel together.

Usually, such trips take place around the bon summer holiday period after the annual ordinary Diet session adjourns.

According to both chambers of parliament, lawmakers went on such overseas trips 39 times in fiscal 2019, but none in fiscal 2020 due to the pandemic. In fiscal 2021, which ends in March, a visit to Austria in September by Akiko Santo, president of the House of Councillors, the upper chamber, for the Fifth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament and other purposes is expected to be the only such journey.

Expenses for the trips cover business-class flight fares, hotel bills and daily allowances. Under the fiscal 2022 draft budget, JPY 373 million was set aside for Lower House members and JPY 189 million for Upper House members, roughly the same levels as before the coronavirus crisis.

“If we don’t secure funds in preparation for the days after the pandemic is brought under control, lawmakers will not be able to go abroad when they want to,” an official from the Lower House Secretariat said. “Funds left unused will be returned to state coffers.”

Amid the pandemic, an increasing number of international conferences and other events are taking place online. In mid-December, an annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum was held online, with South Korea’s National Assembly playing host.

Expenses for lawmaker junkets overseas are not used for such online conferences and other remotely organised events, according to parliamentary officials.

Some members of the opposition camp have questioned the budget for lawmaker trips.

“For some trips, I wondered whether they were really meaningful. In view of criticism that they are no different from ordinary trips, we have to revise what needs to be revised,” a Lower House member from Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) said. There are no signs, however, of calls for a drastic review gaining traction.



Category: Japan

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