Pandemic measures in FY21 budget reflect poor quality of debate in Diet

It can hardly be said that the ruling and opposition blocs have held sufficient discussions to overcome the crisis. They should not be preoccupied with their tug-of-war, but should keep constructive discussions in mind.

The fiscal 2021 budget, with a record-high general account budget topping ¥106 trillion, has been enacted. The government has to steadily implement policy items incorporated in the budget.

The main pillar of measures against the novel coronavirus is enhancing the system of public health centers. According to the budget, local governments will be assisted with the costs of securing public health nurses, and human resource banks for public health nurses will be established in all prefectures.

The tasks of public health centers widely vary from coordinating where infected patients can be hospitalized to arranging polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. It is significant to increase personnel to deal with public health and to reduce the burdens on front-line medical services.

Human resource banks should be effectively utilized so that public health nurses can be flexibly placed in areas where infections have increased.

The budget, compiled before the latest state of emergency was declared, did not accurately estimate what it would take to deal with the pressing situations of hospital beds and assistance to businesses. The ¥5 trillion reserve fund must promptly be put to use as necessary.

The state of emergency has totally ended, but infections are rapidly spreading in some areas.

During the current Diet session, the legal framework for “priority measures to prevent the spread of the disease” has been established, allowing governors to take measures similar to ones taken during the state of emergency. It is important to implement measures in an unambiguous manner by accurately assessing the infection situation.

The government’s measures against the spread of infection have lagged behind. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga should not hesitate to take new measures. The prime minister needs to make decisions on his own initiative while taking opinions of experts and local governments into account.

In the Diet session, the opposition bloc is focusing on the issue of the wining and dining of officials at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

It is important for the legislative body to fulfill its duty of checking the administrative body, but it is not constructive to continue asking Cabinet ministers and bureaucrats about with whom they dined. It is essential for the opposition parties to conduct their own investigations to identify where the problem lies.

At the same time, the government’s behavior lacks sincerity. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Ryota Takeda has repeatedly responded, “I have not accepted any dining that would cause suspicion among the public.” Takeda also said to a senior ministry official who was making his way to answer a question, “Tell them you have no recollection.”

Is it because of arrogance that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party thinks it can push things through with such sloppy responses because it holds the majority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors? Does it intend to go through the next general election with such a mind-set?

Mistakes such as typographical errors were discovered one after another in government-sponsored bills and related documents. It is an extraordinary situation.

Are they simply careless mistakes or do they reflect problems in the working conditions of government officials? The prime minister has to accurately examine what lies behind those mistakes and take thorough measures to prevent the recurrence of such mistakes.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 27, 2021.