Cabinet told to set targets for public works cuts

As part of efforts to ease the nation’s fiscal woes, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto instructed his Cabinet ministers Jan. 21 to set numerical targets for cutting back on the high cost of public works projects.Hashimoto issued the order during the first meeting of Cabinet ministers connected with the issue. The ministerial group was created last week to draw up an action program by the end of March.”Lots of problems are being pointed out concerning public works projects … and a reduction in spending is one of the most important issues to be addressed,” Hashimoto told the ministers, calling for a “substantial” cut in construction costs. The overhaul of the public works program should start from the initial stage of planning and designing and also cover the tender system as well as the construction process, Hashimoto said.Mainly because of decades-old customs and lengthy procedures for the implementation of works programs, the total cost for government projects is said to be 10 percent to 20 percent higher than similar projects ordered by the private sector. In the fiscal 1997 budget, which was adopted by the government last month, 9.84 trillion yen was set aside for public works projects, accounting for 22 percent of general expenditures. Opposition parties claim that the government under Hashimoto has failed to make a drastic review of budget expenditures, including the sum allocated for public investment.