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Japanese editorial excerpts.

TOKYO, Feb. 17 Kyodo

Selected editorial excerpts from the Japanese press:

INPUT FROM PRIVATE SECTOR NEEDED IN POSTAL REFORM (The Daily Yomiuri as translated from the Yomiuri Shimbun)

As things stand, the ''centerpiece'' of the structural reform championed by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is unworthy of its name.

At a meeting of the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy on Tuesday, the government will resume deliberations on the privatization of the state-run Japan Post's postal services.

Yet the study has progressed little. Efforts to work out a reform plan should be expedited.

In a campaign pledge made ahead of the House of Representatives election last year, Koizumi outlined a plan to realize the privatization in April 2007, with a final blueprint to be worked out by this autumn.

But the government has merely compiled the five principles underpinning the blueprint and has shied away from conducting an in-depth study on how to put it into practice. It seems almost impossible for the government to work out a final blueprint by this autumn, the first stage for realizing the privatization.

Some say the government's foot-dragging on the study is due to its reluctance to provoke Liberal Democratic Party members who represent the interests of the postal services before the House of Councillors election this summer.

If this is true, it is despicable. Koizumi should hammer out a course of action for concrete reforms and tackle the matter in a resolute manner by making it a key issue in the upper house poll.

People's savings held in postal savings and postal life insurance have been channeled into the operation of public corporations, including Japan Highway Public Corporation, via the government's Fiscal Investment and Loans Program, propping up these inefficiently run businesses. The core of postal services reform lies in removing such inefficiency.

In contrast to the government's inaction, business circles recently came up with various proposals on the reform of postal savings and postal life insurance.

The privatization of the postal savings and postal life insurance businesses will create a private bank and an insurance company that will be among the world's largest. Even when the postal savings business is split into 12 regional operations, it will nonetheless create large banks whose assets will surpass those of regional banks.

The key issues are how these businesses are to be divided, and how postal savings and postal life insurance businesses should be scaled down.

The Japanese Association of Corporate Executives and the Federation of Bankers Associations of Japan propose that the newly privatized entity should stop accepting new fixed-term deposits and handle only ordinary deposits, while conducting online payment services by utilizing automated teller machines at post offices across the country. This proposal offers a realistic way of employing post offices for settlement services.

However, it is questionable whether the new entity will be able to realize enough profits by focusing on payment businesses.

The funds collected through postal savings and postal life insurance are leading underwriters of government bonds. Steps should be taken to ensure that postal services reform does not depress sales of government bonds in financial markets and stymie the national debt management policy.

The Finance Ministry is studying the possibility of diversifying government bonds targeted at individuals. But at the same time, the ministry needs to work out ways to secure a large enough pool of would-be purchasers.

Meanwhile, mail delivery is a service vital for people's daily life. A uniform, nationwide delivery service should be maintained. There are fears that the privatization of mail delivery could lead to the service being disrupted, should mail delivery businesses record big losses.

Referring to similar cases abroad, the government's council should study the issue carefully and decide whether mail delivery should be privatized in the first place.

Privatization of the postal services is a major reform that will affect the nation's financial and fiscal sectors, as well as the goods distribution and services sectors. The government would be well advised to take into account proposals from the private sector.

(Feb. 17)
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:Feb 23, 2004
Previous Article:LDP's Noda to visit China from Wed.
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