FUKUOKA – An increasing number of local meetings are sending their members on overseas trips for the stated purpose of research despite criticism that they are mainly sightseeing tours paid for in part by taxpayers, a recent survey of Mainichi Shimbun has found.

Of the 47 prefectural assemblies of the nation, 32 legislators – including those in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, Kanagawa south of Tokyo and Fukuoka in southern Japan – had overseas research stripping programs for their members in fiscal year 2017, an increase of 24 in the fiscal year 2011 showed poll results. The number was 44 in fiscal year 2000, but declined due to financial difficulties and social pressures following the Great East-Japan earthquake that destroyed many prefectures in the east and northeast of Japan. The research was carried out in December last year with the aim of secretariats of the legislature of the prefectures and 20 major cities.

A total of 29 assemblies sent their legislators in fiscal year 2017 with a total of 301.97 million yen. For each prefecture, Aichi exported 26.24 million yen in central Japan, followed by Fukushima in the northeast of Japan, which provided 25.99 million yen and Kagawa in the west with 20.95 million yen. Reasons for resuming foreign travel by members of the assembly on spending on the prefecture include "revitalization of research and study."

These foreign trips have a legal basis in Article 100 of the local autonomy law that allows local assemblies to carry out "research into the administration" of their departmental and municipal authorities. According to this regulation, members of the assembly are entrusted to their members by their legislative authority. In addition to those trips on assignment, local legislators visit other countries with the help of their own research grants that their local authorities pay with tax money.

The ceiling for expenses per assembly line for overseas voyages varied between 600,000 yen in Hokkaido and 1.4 million yen in Fukushima, and no limit was set by 14 meetings. Most prefecture governments required members of the meeting to submit reports about their trips abroad, but only 24 or three quarters of the total published online.

Meanwhile, out of the 20 "designated cities" with a population of half a million or more, 10 cities – including Sapporo in the north, Yokohama to the south of Tokyo and Fukuoka in the south of Japan – had programs for their members. to send abroad for research in fiscal 2017. They spent a total of around 90 million yen on such trips, including 26.18 million yen by the municipal assembly of Yokohama. The city of Kitakyushu will abolish its program from the fiscal year 2019 after members of the assembly were criticized for drinking during the day they visited Europe last year.

Kitakyushu spent around 8 million yen of public funds for the journey of the eight legislators and two city officials from June to July 2018 in Spain and Finland for the stated purpose of studying welfare and environmental policies. Scenes of some members of the assembly who drank wine or visited tourist attractions during lunch were broadcast by a Japanese TV station with about 800 complaints. A local NPO has filed a complaint with the aim of returning the 8 million yen.

In the case of Kagawa prefecture, six members of the assembly were drunk or visited tourist attractions during their visit to Italy and other locations in 2017. They are now fighting a lawsuit in which they have been demanded to repay the taxpayers' money that they have spent during their trip.

In the northern prefecture of Aomori, the court ordered the governor in October 2018 to demand that two members of the assembly repay approximately 1.44 million yen in the costs of their trip to a Samba carnival in Sao Paulo in Brazil in a lawsuit was submitted by a local citizens group.

Some of the reports submitted by members of the meeting after the trip are of questionable quality. In the case of Okayama Prefecture, 13 assembly members sent to the United States in 2016 submitted almost identical reports, including copied texts from Wikipedia's online encyclopedia. Fukuoka officials of the prefecture appeared to have prepared reports by some members of the assembly.

Emeritus Professor Masayasu Kitagawa of Waseda University, a former prefecture governor in central Japan, says he thinks that foreign research trips by local members of the assembly are necessary to "stimulate" their activities, but pointed out that these outings should have clear goals have in the first place. "It is indispensable to produce detailed reports on how to reflect the results of their findings on how local authorities and assemblies are managed," he said.

Attorney Satoshi Shinkai, director general of the national network of ombudsperson groups who closely monitor administrative offenses, criticized that foreign journeys by members of the meeting "are becoming like school excursions". Shinkai said that the meetings "resume their overseas travel program" while public criticism has subsided ". Professor Yoshihiro Katayama of Waseda University, who was once the governor of prefect Tottori in western Japan, said that such journeys must be abandoned. "You can learn foreign examples from researchers and other sources," he said.

(Japanese original by Masanori Nishijima, Fukuoka News Center)