Aso unconvincing on Japan Post plans
Prime Minister Taro Aso and Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama faced off Wednesday in the Diet in their second head-to-head debate as ruling and opposition party leaders. The debate mainly focused on the disputed reappointment of Yoshifumi Nishikawa as president of Japan Post Holdings Co. and the fiscal resources needed to meet social security and other costs.
Though the two talked at cross-purposes at times, the debate seemed to shed light on contentious policy issues in the run-up to the House of Representatives election.
In connection with the dispute over Nishikawa's reappointment, Hatoyama harshly criticized Aso on his handling of a series of problems involving Japan Post Holdings, saying the prime minister "can't reach judgements, is inconsistent and makes mistakes."
Aso was accused of being incapable of good judgement because he had left a series of Japan Post-related scandals unaddressed, such as the proposed bundled sale of the firm's Kampo no Yado inns.
The charge of inconsistency apparently referred to the fact that the prime minister had handed over a list of potential candidates to take over from Nishikawa as Japan Post Holdings president to then Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Kunio Hatoyama on the premise Nishikawa would be replaced.
The mistake referred to Aso's de facto dismissal of Hatoyama while keeping Nishikawa in his post.
Pressed to fire Nishikawa
In the Diet debate, Yukio Hatoyama pressed Aso to fire Nishikawa, saying the DPJ is ready to replace the president if it takes power.
Regrettably, Aso's response to Hatoyama's demand was far from convincing.
The prime minister simply repeated his previous explanation that the government needs to be cautious about intervening in personnel affairs regarding the private sector. He also said he had decided to dismiss only the communications minister because the prime minister's authority to make personnel changes covers only Cabinet members, not employees such as Japan Post Holdings staff.
Yet, Japan Post Holdings is virtually a state-owned company, as all of the firm's shares are held by the government. The law stipulates that the internal affairs and communications minister holds the right to approve or veto personnel decisions taken by the company.
If the company fails to respond appropriately to a business improvement order it was given by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the government should not allow Nishikawa to stay on as the firm's president.
To act in this way is the administrative body's "responsibility," rather than an "intervention."
We urge the prime minister to put his foot down regarding Nishikawa's managerial responsibilities.
DPJ head branded irresponsible
The prime minister did, however, take the lead in the debate on fiscal resources for key projects.
In response to Hatoyama's calls for improved medical services, Aso called the DPJ leader's proposal irresponsible unless clear fiscal-resource options were presented. Aso also stressed that debate on a consumption tax hike could not be avoided.
Hatoyama stated clearly that his party would not raise the consumption tax rate for at least four years. He explained that the 20 trillion yen that would be needed to achieve his party's policies would be generated from general and special accounts totaling 210 trillion yen by eliminating wasteful spending in the budget.
Hatoyama's argument, however, was not persuasive. Of the 210 trillion yen he would target, debt-servicing costs and other expenses that would prove hard to trim total 180 trillion yen.
Aso criticized the proposal, saying it would be unrealistic to squeeze 20 trillion yen out of the remaining 30 trillion yen.
We find the prime minister quite right on this point.
At Aso's behest, it was decided that the two leaders will hold another Diet debate, with the focus to be on tax and fiscal policies, and diplomatic and security issues.
If the two leaders frequently lock horns in the Diet, it will help clarify contentious issues prior to the next lower house election. We welcome this development.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2009)