Renho beats drum against waste

Special account budgets to be scrutinized

by Jun Hongo

Renho, the new state minister in charge of government revitalization, reiterated Wednesday her intention to trim waste in special account budgets, saying some aspects of the spending technique call for a thorough investigation by her team.

“This is a big theme,” the high-profile Renho, who at 42 is the youngest member of the Cabinet, said during her inaugural news conference.

Special account budgets are used for specific government projects using revenue closely related to that project. For example, the government uses the gasoline and coal tax to develop new oil and gas fields under a special energy policy account.

While Renho, who goes by just her given name, said keeping this kind of spending separate from the general account budget has provided steady funding for some projects, she pointed to the shady practices that have cropped up, including the giant cash reserves accumulated in 21 of the special government accounts known as “maizokin.”

Renho said no time frame has been set on how to tackle the project but promised her team will “carefully look into it.”

The former TV announcer gained the media spotlight during televised budget review sessions held under the Hatoyama administration, in which she uncompromisingly ordered budget cuts.

The Upper House lawmaker has two children and was first rumored to take the portfolio for consumer affairs and the declining birthrate. But new Prime Minister Naoto Kan probably found it difficult not to take advantage of Renho’s experience in administrative reform, even though she’s a political rookie, serving her first term in the Upper House.

“My job is to cut down inefficient use of tax money,” Renho repeated Wednesday. “I believe that is something the public is expecting as well.”

So far she has played a key role in two previous screening phases to cut the budgets of government-backed entities and independent administrative institutions.

Having worked closely with her predecessor, Yukio Edano, Renho said it took only 10 minutes Wednesday for Edano to brief her on the job and give her the necessary materials.

“The budget screening process began right here. For me, it feels like I’m home again,” Renho said after setting foot in her new office in the morning. “I will be able to concentrate on my duties here.”

As one of only two women in the Cabinet — the other is Keiko Chiba, who was reappointed as justice minister — Renho is considered one of the few surprises in Kan’s administrative lineup. Her appointment also made headlines in Taiwan because her father was Taiwanese.

In addition to juggling her new role as a state minister and raising two children, Renho will be busy this summer seeking re-election.

But Renho expressed confidence in her new position.

“I feel that my motivation to move forward and make progress has been renewed” following her exchange with Edano, she said. “I can clearly see the path that needs to be taken” to pursue administrative reform.