Abe administration grilled over ¥300 billion for work on tourism drive


The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces growing opposition criticism of its allocation of up to ¥309.5 billion for a deal with the private sector to consign clerical work in a government program to support the coronavirus-battered domestic tourism industry.

The sum, which accounts for as much as about 20 percent of ¥1.68 trillion earmarked for the Go To Travel Campaign program in the first supplementary budget for fiscal 2020, has nothing to do with boosting demand for tourism-linked businesses, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and other major opposition parties argue.

In the campaign, set to begin in late July, coupons and reward points will be distributed to promote hotel stays, transportation, souvenir shopping and dining at local restaurants. The government plans to pick an entity to undertake back-office work after accepting applications until Monday.

The government had claimed that checking how the campaign works, responding to inquiries and promoting measures in the program justified the cost.

But in replying to CDP lawmaker Satoshi Arai’s question at a House of Representatives tourism committee meeting Wednesday, tourism minister Kazuyoshi Akaba effectively admitted that the costs are excessive, saying he will make efforts to cut them “as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, in a hearing held Thursday by the opposition camp, an industry ministry official said the ministry does not intend to reduce the already-budgeted amount of the consignment fees. At the same time, however, the official said the ministry will use the allocated funds as efficiently as possible, adding that if there is any leftover money, it will be part of other expenditures for the program such as issuing coupons.

The controversy is expected to supply the opposition bloc with more ammunition at debates starting next week on the second extra budget for the current fiscal year through March 2021, critics said. Opposition lawmakers are also expected to grill the Abe administration on consignment expenses in another coronavirus relief project.

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