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¥60 billion G8 budget draws flak

Although less than 2000 outlay, critics see amount as excessive amid social shortfalls

by Takahiro Fukada

Japan plans to spend more than ¥60 billion in taxpayer money to host next week’s Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido and related events, prompting some to question if that sum could better be used to alleviate the national health-care and social welfare crises.

The summit will be held in Toyako, Hokkaido, from Monday to July 9, when leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Russia plan to discuss the world economy, climate change, African development and other political issues, including nonproliferation.

Japan last hosted the annual summit in 2000 in Kyushu and Okinawa.

That and related events cost in excess of ¥80 billion, about ¥20 billion more than the budget for this year’s gatherings, said Kenichi Masamoto, a Foreign Ministry official in the G8 summit secretariat.

“The previous (Japanese) summit was held for the first time in a provincial area. So we wanted no mistakes and tried to provide as much hospitality as possible,” Masamoto said. Before the Kyushu-Okinawa gathering, Japan hosted three summits, all in Tokyo.

Masamoto admitted the Kyushu-Okinawa gathering drew public criticism about spending at a time when Japan’s economy was in a prolonged slump.

During the leaders’ banquet hosted by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, they feasted on black Russian caviar, lobster from Bretagne, France, and Foie gras.

Souvenirs were also given to the leaders, their wives and journalists.

They included wine glasses with their names inscribed, clothing by famous designers, lacquer letter boxes, IC recorders and Licca-chan dolls.

This time, the government hopes to stage a “compact” summit, Masamoto said.

“We are trying as much as possible not to be wasteful,” he said.

Of the ¥60 billion-plus to host the meetings, about ¥30 billion will be used by the National Police Agency for patrolling the venues, including taking counterterrorism measures, and about ¥25.5 billion will be spent by the Foreign Ministry.

The Defense Ministry and Japan Coast Guard budgeted around ¥1 billion each for transporting the leaders and patrolling sea areas near the venue.

The Foreign Ministry plans to spend around ¥9 billion on preparing the communications infrastructure between the summit venue in Toyako and Rusutsu, where the international media center will be located.

The ministry budgeted around ¥5 billion for the media center, which is constructed on a parking lot in a ski resort and will accommodate around 3,000 people from the press and governments.

Inside and outside the center, cutting-edge environmental technology, including fuel cells and heat pumps, will be exhibited.

The center itself boasts eco-friendly features, including solar panels, “green” walls and a snow cooling system.

Once the summit is over, however, the building will be demolished.

“Originally, (the site) was a parking lot,” Masamoto said. “The summit is an unusual situation, and when the leaders gather, the world’s eyes will be on them and thousands of journalists will be on hand.

“The building was constructed to handle this temporary, special demand. It will be removed when the event is over.”

In Toyako, five working lunches and dinners are scheduled involving the G8 and other countries’ leaders. Masamoto declined to disclose how much has been budgeted for the meals, because they are still being coordinated.

Japan again plans to pass out souvenirs to the leaders, their aides and the press, he said.

Although Masamoto again refused to fully disclose the budget and planned gifts for the same reason, he said the government wants to give the leaders “something good with the theme of the environment and tradition.”

Gifts being considered include writing implements for the leaders’ aides and chopsticks, “furoshiki” wrapping cloth and “uchiwa” fans for the press corps, he said.

With the gifts, Masamoto said the government hopes the participants and media learn about Japan, Hokkaido and the environment.

Toshio Nagahisa, an executive director at think tank PHP Research Institute specializing in political science, said that although the expenditures for hosting the gatherings must be streamlined, they are necessary outlays.

“The important thing is that the money must be spent to ensure problems do not occur at the meetings,” Nagahisa said. “It is also very important to guarantee the leaders’ safety.”

One expert meanwhile opined that too much public money was being spent just to host the event.

“Why does Japan have to continue being a friend of the advanced countries to this extent?” asked Toshimaru Ogura, a political economy professor at the University of Toyama critical of the annual G8 gathering.

“With the tight fiscal situation stemming from Japan’s aging society, I wonder if (taxpayers) really support spending ¥60 billion over just a few days’ time.

“That ¥60 billion could instead go toward strengthening the manpower of the Social Insurance Agency and coping with various ongoing medical-care and social security issues,” Ogura pointed out.

The Foreign Ministry said it has no comparable data of other countries’ budgets for past G8 meetings.

But according to the British government’s Web site, the U.K. budgeted about £12.1 million, or around ¥2.6 billion in present value, for the 2005 summit it hosted in Gleneagles, Scotland.