Lawmakers hurry off on summer overseas trips

JIJI

Lawmakers are rushing off on official overseas trips for the holiday season amid political stability at home and with the Diet in recess, creating an opportunity absent in the past two summers.

Politicians were forced to skip trips abroad because of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011 and spending curbs in 2012 prompted by bleak prospects for the enactment of a key bill to allow the government to issue deficit-covering bonds.

This summer, delegations from 12 Lower House committees are scheduled to embark on overseas trips between August and September.

Specifically, a Cabinet committee team will visit countries including Sweden and Germany from Wednesday to conduct studies for social security and tax numbering systems. Also, Lower House Speaker Bunmei Ibuki will visit Britain to attend an international conference, while Vice Speaker Hirotaka Akamatsu is set to visit South America.

Delegations from the Committee on Foreign Affairs will meanwhile visit Bhutan and India as part of a nine-day overseas trip starting Monday, while a Commission on the Constitution team will visit Germany and the Czech Republic during an 11-day trip from Sept. 12.

Members of the Budget Committee already finished a visit to Spain in July.

The House of Councilors, for its part, is considering forming a team of lawmakers to conduct overseas research related to official development assistance.

Critics say such overseas tours are a waste of taxpayer money, as their details are unclear and they do not produce concrete achievements.

To cut costs, the delegations will not travel first class. Seeking to avoid criticism for joining a junket, one of the lawmakers has pledged to use input from the trip for future activities.