Cost-cutting body takes aim at climate change PR funds

Kyodo News

A key government body tasked with cutting wasteful spending sought Wednesday to cut funds for several programs aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions and saving energy, questioning their effectiveness.

A working group for the body, the Government Revitalization Unit, said the ¥502 million requested for programs aimed at raising public awareness of global warming and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases should be halved.

The program includes the Cool Biz campaign, under which the government urges office workers to dress more casually, without jackets and ties, in the summer so workplace air conditioners can be set higher and thus emit less carbon dioxide.

The group also recommended scrapping two other programs meant to counter global warming, raising questions about whether they really helped cut greenhouse gases.

The unit made the proposals at an open-door session held in Tokyo on the second day of the second round of project reviews that began on Nov. 11.

By reviewing about 450 public works projects in the fiscal 2010 budget, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government aims to trim the budget by ¥3 trillion or more from the record-high budget requests, which currently exceed ¥95 trillion.

Three working groups comprising lawmakers, professors, researchers, economists and other experts are conducting the review, which runs through Friday.

Among the other programs under scrutiny Wednesday, the education ministry has requested ¥1.171 trillion to operate state universities. The groups determined that the request should be re-examined.

Members of the working group argued that state universities should make more efforts to curtail costs, as private universities have done.

The working group also said that the Foreign Ministry should curb its ¥1.51 billion request for its public relations activities and stop spending taxpayer money to purchase specific magazines, including Gaiko Forum (Forum on Foreign Policy) and Japan Echo.

The ministry has requested ¥230 million to pay for the purchase of the magazines for the new fiscal year from April 2010 to distribute them to lawmakers, educators and journalists.

“I didn’t know where the magazine was coming from, but I would buy it if I find it necessary, as I understand that the state’s financial condition is dire,” said Makiko Kikuta, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan.

The working group also scrutinized the ministry’s annual project to invite to Japan people from abroad who previously studied in Japan with the aim of helping them play a role as a bridge between Japan and their home countries. One of the working group members argued that taxpayers should not have to cover the costs for their stay.

The unit will examine the results of the three working groups and decide whether the projects should be scrapped, have their budgets cut, or be transferred to municipalities, basically in line with the groups’ recommendations.