You're late! Tardy ministers delay Japan budget debate

Wed Mar 3, 2010 2:27pm EST
 
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TOKYO (Reuters) - Forget funding scandals or budget and foreign policy rifts: The big fuss in Japan's parliament on Wednesday was over three cabinet ministers turning up late for debate.

The upper house budget committee meeting had been scheduled to begin at 8:50 a.m. but had to be delayed until the three showed up, leading to an uproar from the opposition and a short recess.

When the trio -- internal affairs minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi, transport minister Seiji Maehara and national strategy minister Yoshito Sengoku -- arrived, they bowed before the committee and apologized.

Haraguchi, who media say was tweeting about his goal to promote nationwide broadband access at 8:52 a.m. when he should have been sitting in parliament, blamed his assistants for the error.

"I was following my schedule, like this," he said, pulling out a crumpled sheet of paper for reporters and TV cameras and pointing at the 9 a.m. entry.

"It said nine o'clock, so that's when I came."

All three were later warned by Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano to watch their punctuality, and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama described the incident as "outrageous."

But all's well that ends well: the three were in their seats for the afternoon session by 12:54 -- a full six minutes before the committee reconvened.

"Even if it is an administrative error, in the end it is the minister's mistake," Haraguchi said.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Chris Gallagher)

 
<p>Japan's Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kazuhiro Haraguchi speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo September 16, 2009. REUTERS/Issei Kato</p>