Japan maintains budget for overseas lawmakers’ travel despite pandemic

Japan’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2022, as of April, includes 562 million yen in spending on overseas investigative travel by lawmakers, almost unchanged from previous years, although almost all those trips were canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With many international exchanges being held online, legislator trips are viewed critically by some as an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer dollars due to the lack of clear accomplishments.

In parliament, however, few MPs are calling for a drastic overhaul of the program.

Legislators’ overseas information trips are primarily intended for direct viewing of advanced projects and for interaction with local dignitaries.

In the House of Representatives, the lower house of the Diet, the directors of each committee of the ruling and opposition parties travel abroad as a group. Some believe that such trips have the advantage of strengthening the bonds between lawmakers from ruling and opposition parties who travel together.

Usually, such trips take place around the Hello summer vacation period after the adjournment of the annual session of the Ordinary Diet.

According to both Houses of Parliament, lawmakers made such overseas trips 39 times in fiscal year 2019, but none in fiscal year 2020 due to the pandemic. In fiscal year 2021, which ends in March, a visit to Austria in September by Akiko Santo, speaker of the House of Councilors, the upper house, for the Fifth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament and others ends should be the only such trip. .

Travel costs cover business class airline tickets, hotel bills and per diems. As part of the 2022 fiscal budget proposal, 373 million yen has been set aside for members of the Lower House and 189 million yen for members of the Upper House, roughly the same levels as before the crisis. coronavirus.

“If we don’t get the funds for the days after the pandemic is under control, lawmakers won’t be able to travel abroad when they want to,” said a lower house secretariat official. “Unused funds will be returned to the state coffers. “

Amid the pandemic, a growing number of international conferences and other events are taking place online. In mid-December, an annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum was held online, with the National Assembly of South Korea as the host.

Spending on travel by lawmakers abroad is not being used for such online conferences and other events held remotely, according to parliamentary officials.

Some members of the opposition camp have questioned the travel budget of lawmakers.

“For some trips, I wondered if they really made sense. Given the criticism that they are no different from ordinary trips, we need to review what needs to be revised, ”said lower house member of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).

There is, however, no sign that calls for a drastic overhaul are gaining traction.

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