National

Budget for Foreign Minister Taro Kono's flights jumps sixfold to ¥420 million amid calls for a plane of his own

JIJI

The Foreign Ministry has earmarked ¥420 million to cover costs for chartered flights for Foreign Minister Taro Kono under the government’s fiscal 2019 draft budget, amid calls from the well-traveled minister for the procurement of a dedicated plane.

The amount for the coming fiscal year starting April 1 is up sixfold from the level set aside under the initial budget for fiscal 2018.

Kono, who took up the foreign portfolio in August 2017, will have visited 61 countries and regions during his tenure, including his ongoing tour of three North African nations — Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria — through Saturday.

At a news conference Friday, Kono stressed the significance of boosting the spending on chartered flights, citing difficulties using commercial flights for travel to some regions, and noted his wish for the ministry to acquire its own plane.

“It would be advisable to procure a dedicated plane in light of ensuring the confidentiality of information and making business trips more effective,” he said.

Kono plans to continue calling for the procurement of a plane that could also be used by other Cabinet ministers.

The ministry is encouraged by Kono’s active stance on diplomacy, but is cautious about introducing a dedicated aircraft due to its high purchase costs, and operational and maintenance outlays.

Kono’s frequent trips have also caused the ministry to face a shortage of funds to cover travel costs for staff officials accompanying the minister.

The ministry is dealing with the situation by using economy-class seats, rather than business-class seats, and a mileage program, among other measures, an official at its Financial Affairs Division said.

Costs per trip are rising in line with an increase in the number of visits to far-flung areas, such as Africa.

Although the ministry has earmarked slightly more funds for travel by staff officials under the fiscal 2019 draft budget than in fiscal 2018, it is expected to continue struggling with trip-related expenses, sources familiar with the matter said.