Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Hey look, we shrank the budget

November 18, 2009

Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has long vowed to wrest power from the country’s bureaucrats. Now it’s taking its battles with them over spending onto live internet TV.

Three government backed budget-cutting panels operating from temporary premises in a Tokyo gym, have called in a series of bureaucrats to answer for projects deemed unnecessary or too expensive. The live internet broadcast of the resulting stand-offs can make for compelling viewing.

JAPAN-ELECTION/SPEED

It’s also pleased voters concerned about Japan’s national debt, which is set to approach 200 percent of GDP next year. The website almost crashed on the first day of the hearings, when thousands of people tried to watch the broadcast at once, the Yomiuri newspaper said. 

For those who don’t follow it live, edited highlights appear nightly on news programmes, often focusing on Democratic lawmaker Renho, a stylish former TV presenter, as she grills squirming bureaucrats.

In a media poll this week, 76 percent of respondents said they thought Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was doing a good job with cost-cutting.

“What a wonderful broadcast,” said one poster on a news website. “The bureaucrats’ excuses are disgraceful.”

Some critics have called the process bullying and complained that not enough time is allotted for panels to investigate the worth of projects they are cancelling, which include development of a rocket and a supercomputer.

Others suggest they should tackle bigger expenditures, such as foreign aid and defence.

The panels have until the end of next week to cut an estimated 3 trillion yen from bureaucrats’ 95 trillion yen in budget requests for the financial year starting in April. The Mainichi newspaper said on Wednesday cutbacks so far totalled 1.4 trillion.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

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