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Japan PM Abe defends gov't efforts despite coronavirus business subsidy delays

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen on the right answering questions regarding the government subsidy program for small and midsize companies at a House of Councillors Audit Committee session on June 15, 2020, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended the Japanese government's efforts regarding a subsidy program for sustaining small and midsize companies amid the coronavirus pandemic despite delays in its distribution, in a Diet panel session on June 15.

The government's Subsidy Program for Sustaining Businesses offers relief money to small, medium and other companies whose earnings have dropped considerably as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Prime Minister Abe expressed his understanding that delays in its distribution have not been caused by the government's negligence, and said, "I would like the government's hard work to also be acknowledged. The fault is not completely with the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry."

In a House of Councillors Committee on Audit session on June 15, Abe touched upon the government subsidy while emphasizing, "We have already made payments of 2 trillion yen covering 1.5 million cases in this past month. It is absolutely not the case that ministerial staff members are being lazy and doing nothing." He provided an explanation that the process of checking applications is taking time, and said, "It is a fact that there are various problems with the submitted documentation."

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama stated that for applications made on May 1, when they were first accepted, "Payments have been completed for 97% of cases, and final confirmations of bank account information are being carried out for 0.3% of cases." He said that the remaining 2.7% are still going through the application process due to inadequacies in submitted documentation among other issues, and asked for the public's understanding by saying, "We would like to ensure payments to as many people as possible."

Opposition parties have strongly criticized the government over having not yet paid out subsidies for around 50,000 of the some 770,000 applications that had been made between May 1 and 11.

Furthermore, Kuniyoshi Noda, member of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, raised a question about Small and Medium Enterprise Agency chief Yasuhiro Maeda meeting with an executive of an association commissioned to handle the administrative work for the subsidy program in the U.S. state of Texas in 2017. Noda said, "It is unacceptable action to be taken by a civil servant," but the prime minister commented, "It is questionable that you criticize one-sidedly without even referring to what exactly the official violated in the ethical principles of civil servants," and defended Maeda by saying, "It occasionally happens that civilians and public employees meet up."

The upper house Audit Committee approved of the expenditure from the 2018 fiscal year, with a large majority of assenting votes from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the LDP's coalition partner Komeito, and other parties.

Meanwhile, the committee also unanimously passed a resolution to warn the Cabinet over a mahjong gambling scandal involving Hiromu Kurokawa, former chief of the Tokyo High Public Prosecutors Office, which stated, "It is highly regrettable that the Japanese public's trust in public prosecutors has been lost."

(Japanese original by Itsuo Tokubo and Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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