子ども手当 混乱回避へ与野党協議始めよ

2011-02-28 10:17:01 | 英字新聞

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 28, 2011)
Child allowance system unsustainable
子ども手当 混乱回避へ与野党協議始めよ(2月27日付・読売社説)

Deliberations on a bill to expand child-rearing allowances paid to families in fiscal 2011 have started in the House of Representatives.

Not only the Liberal Democratic Party but also New Komeito have made clear their stances against the bill. In the current divided Diet, even if the bill passed the lower house, it would almost surely be voted down in the House of Councillors, where opposition parties hold the majority. Therefore, there is only a marginal possibility that the bill will become law within the current fiscal year.

The current child-rearing benefit system, for families with children of middle school age or younger, is based on a temporary statute valid for one year. If the bill on a new law does not pass the Diet, the current system will revert to the former system of dependent child allowances from April.

City, town and village governments actually in charge of handing out the child-rearing allowances changed their computer programs to fit the current system.
Therefore, it would be difficult for them to switch back to the old system so soon, as the old dependent child allowance system is quite different from the current system.


Major confusion expected

However, the local governments cannot prepare for the next fiscal year on the premise that the bill will not become law. If the situation goes on as it is, clerical work on issuing the benefits at municipal government offices will fall into major confusion. The ruling and opposition parties should immediately begin discussions to avoid such an outcome.

To do so, the government and the Democratic Party of Japan have to drop the child-rearing allowance system, at least for now. The government should declare a stance of returning to the old dependent child allowance system, created when the LDP and New Komeito were in power, and ask both parties for cooperation.

The new bill for the second year of the child-rearing allowance system is designed to raise the current monthly handout of 13,000 yen per child to 20,000 yen for children younger than 3.

The LDP and New Komeito have been arguing that improvements to child-related services, such as solving the problem of children waiting to be enrolled at certified nursery schools, should be given priority rather than maintaining a system to dole out cash.

The child-rearing allowance system has been impossible from the beginning. It would require a hefty 5.5 trillion yen annually to fund the full monthly amount of 26,000 yen per child that the DPJ has pledged to eventually provide, but there was no prospect for securing stable revenue sources.


Kan: Surprised at 26,000 yen

Prime Minister Naoto Kan himself has admitted as much.

During recent deliberations on the bill at the Diet, he said, "I was little bit surprised to hear the monthly amount of 26,000 yen when Mr. [Ichiro] Ozawa was party president," recalling the time when the DPJ was deciding the amount.

As Kaoru Yosano, state minister in charge of economic and fiscal policy, described it, this remark is "quite honest."

If Kan still thinks so, his administration should not adhere to the child-rearing allowance bill any more and, instead, both the ruling and opposition parties should cooperate to design a new system as soon as possible, with improvement of the old dependent child benefit system as the basic starting point.

If they follow the right steps, it may be possible to return to the framework of the former system of dependent child benefits backed by revenue sources, while avoiding confusion at the same time.

To finance the current child-rearing allowance system, the tax exemption system for families with children up to 15 years old was abolished, for instance. If that system is not revived, families will face significant tax increases. The government and the DPJ should analyze the situation carefully once again.

There will be resistance within the DPJ to withdrawing such a high-profile plank of the party's 2009 general election manifesto, which helped propel the party to power.

However, the government and the DPJ should not just wait for major confusion to arise without taking measures to avoid it.

We hope Kan will show his leadership in remedying the situation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 27, 2011)
(2011年2月27日01時23分  読売新聞)


Social security reform

2011-02-27 07:40:02 | 英字新聞

消費税増分はVAT(付加価値税value added tax)としたほうが良いかも。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 25
EDITORIAL: Social security reform

A government council is now intensively debating the integrated tax and social security reform proposed by the administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The Kan administration intends to announce a plan for revamping the social security system in April and then draft a blueprint for the integrated reform incorporating tax increases to finance the social security overhaul.

Reform of the nation's tax and fiscal regime and the social safety net was the underlying theme of the series of editorials we published from October 2007 to April 2008 on proposals to make Japan a more hopeful society.

Immediately after the series of editorials, U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, pushing the world into synchronized recession. The global economic crisis revived deflation--continuous declines in prices and wages--in Japan.

A vision for rehabilitation

A power transfer took place in the United States and then in Japan.

With the nation heading into a future of unprecedented demographic situation due to the aging of the population and low fertility rate, repairing the frayed social security system and mapping out a feasible plan for restoring fiscal sanity is the principal challenge facing policymakers.

The further deterioration of the nation's fiscal health due to stimulus measures taken in response to the economic crisis has increased the urgency for a radical reform of the tax code centering on a consumption tax hike. Such a tax overhaul is an indispensable prerequisite for social security stability.

We would like to add some fresh proposals to the arguments we made in the series of editorials for a hopeful society.

As for reform of the state pension program, it should be based on the current social insurance formula. That would be more realistic than the fully tax-financed system for basic portions, which is proposed by business organizations and Rengo (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), the nation's largest labor organization.

The precious new revenue from tax hikes in the coming years will have to be used mainly to finance programs in such areas as health and nursing-care and child-care support.

Between fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2025, the total amount of health-care and nursing-care benefits will grow by 70 percent and 160 percent, respectively, compared with a 40-percent increase in pension payouts, according to estimates by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

In addition to tackling the problems of the shortages of doctors and special elderly nursing homes, the government needs to expand its policy support for families rearing children and people struggling to become financially independent.

Securing a balance between generations

But it is important to ensure financial stability of the pension program. The government has raised the ratio of state financing of the program's basic portions to half, but the step is partly paid for with surpluses and reserves in special budget accounts known as "maizokin" (buried gold) under a stopgap-funding program. The priority should be on securing a stable tax revenue source for the partial state funding of the pension program.

To reduce the number of people who fail to pay into the "kokumin nenkin" national pension program, the "kosei nenkin" plan for corporate employees should be expanded to cover nonregular workers like part-timers and temporary workers. Efforts to collect premiums for the national pension from the remaining nonpayers should be redoubled.

But at the same time, steps should be taken to make certain that all low-income earners will be exempted from premium payments or benefit from premium cuts.

The national identification number system the government is considering is essential for providing welfare services better tailored to the needs of the people. The proposed integration of the kokumin and kosei nenkin programs should be promoted as the effectiveness of the ID number system for efforts to track the income of self-employed workers is ascertained.

Companies should be required in principle to have all employees enrolled in the kosei nenkin program and contribute to the system. It is part of a company's social responsibility to pay its fair share of the cost of social welfare for its employees.

Economic growth is also crucial for the health of social security. Ensuring the long-term financial stability of the social security system requires effective efforts to develop people and industries to create huge additional value for economic growth. The reality, however, is that pension benefits remain at high levels despite stagnant wage growth and a deflationary trend. This situation is causing pension inequality between generations. Fixing the inequity is imperative.

The pension reform in 2004 introduced a system to gradually but automatically lower the levels of pension benefits in response to the aging of the population and the low birth rate. But a provision stipulating that nominal amounts of benefits should be kept unchanged as much as possible has caused the real levels of benefits to rise amid deflation.

As a result, the financial future of the public pension system is in jeopardy. The levels of pension benefits should be lowered in line with falling prices.

Taking a hard look at the dire state of the nation's public finances and recognizing the need to increase the burden on taxpayers is a prerequisite for meaningful social security reform.

Our serial editorials proposed that the state budget be divided into two parts.

One part would finance expenditures crucial for the people's sense of security, such as spending on the health and nursing care, pension and child-care support programs. The additional revenue from future tax hikes would be used mainly to fund these outlays.

The other part of the budget would finance the rest of government expenditures, including spending on debt servicing. This part should be subject to exhaustive efforts for spending cuts through the elimination of waste. We also predicted that Japanese taxpayers would have to brace themselves for a future consumption tax rate above 10 percent.

Virtual cycle of reform and growth

Since the Lehman Shock, Japan's fiscal conditions have deteriorated further. The nation's horrendous fiscal morass is underscored by the fact that on the basis of the original budget, the government's borrowing will surpass its tax receipts for two straight years.

The fiscal management strategy announced by the Kan administration in June last year and the fiscal rehabilitation bill drafted by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party both call for ensuring that all government outlays, excluding debt service expenses, will be fully covered by tax receipts in fiscal 2020.

But there will be a gargantuan revenue shortfall of nearly 26 trillion yen (about $317 billion) in fiscal 2020 unless nothing is done. That would be equivalent of the revenue from a 9-percent consumption tax.

Filling the budget hole with a tax hike, however, would only amount to this. The cost of the government's services provided in that year would be covered by its tax take in the same year without any fresh borrowing that would increase the burden on future generations.

Welfare states in Europe have been using their revenues from value-added taxes to finance their social security payouts. This approach has won the trust of European taxpayers by convincing them that they will receive benefits in return for the increased burden. In contrast, Japan has been expanding social security benefits without securing sufficient revenue sources to finance them. It is time to fundamentally change this approach.

Much of the fresh money to be raised through a tax increase will have to be used to reduce the government debt. This is necessary for paying for the debt-financed services provided in the past.

The government also needs to make cool-headed efforts to eliminate overlapping services and review the level of benefits.

The new money to spend on social security will come from economic growth. On the other hand, health, nursing and child-care services are a crucial part of the social infrastructure for economic growth. It is important to create a virtuous cycle of social security reform and economic growth.

Laying down a grand vision for the future of social security and taking the first step toward securing revenue sources to finance the system is absolutely vital for rescuing Japan from the trap of stifling stagnation.


原油価格急騰 脱「石油・中東依存」を進めよ

2011-02-26 05:15:47 | 英字新聞


The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 26, 2011)
Reduce dependence on oil, Middle East
原油価格急騰 脱「石油・中東依存」を進めよ(2月25日付・読売社説)

Crude oil prices are rising quickly amid growing political tension in oil-producing countries in North Africa, including Libya, and the Middle East.

Every kind of crude oil whose price is used as a barometer for international trading has topped the benchmark of 100 dollars a barrel.

Should oil prices continue rising, they will slow the world economy, now moving toward recovery, and weigh down the Japanese economy as well. We must remain on guard.

The government and industrial sectors may need to promote anew energy measures to help Japan become less dependent on oil and the Middle East.

Among internationally traded crude oil, North Sea Brent Crude--the most quoted oil product in the London market--exceeded 110 dollars a barrel, while Texas Light Sweet Crude Oil hit the 100 dollars mark in New York.

As we ushered in the 2000s, crude oil prices were on the rise, due chiefly to growing demand in such emerging economies as China and to an inflow of speculative money. They hit a record high of 147 dollars a barrel in New York during the summer of 2008.

However, prices later dropped markedly, due to a rebound from their excessive highs and the repercussions of the collapse of Lehman Brothers.


Turmoil drives up prices

Crude oil prices have been moving up ever since, as if in step with the recovery in the world economy. With energy demand remaining brisk in emerging economies, the oil market probably expects a shortage of crude oil in the future.

The situation in Egypt boosted the upward trend in oil prices earlier this year; concerns grew over the safe passage of tankers through the Suez Canal. Uprisings also took place in Bahrain and Libya, sending crude oil prices even higher.

If political turmoil also erupts in such major oil producers as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, crude oil prices will inevitably climb further. Some observers have said prices could rise to the levels seen in summer 2008.

Japan's first step should probably be to diversify the source of its oil imports.


History repeats itself

Learning from the oil crises of the 1970s, Japan reduced its dependency on Middle East crude oil from 90 percent of its oil imports at that time to a 60 percent level in the 1980s.

Due to such factors as a decline in oil production in Indonesia, however, oil imports from the Middle East began rising again. Today, nearly 90 percent of Japan's oil imports come from the Middle East.

What must Japan do to improve this situation? From a geographical point of view, increasing oil imports from Russia is a viable measure. Japan might also be able to rely on unconventional oil recovery methods, such as extracting oil from rock and sand formations.

On the other hand, it is also important to make use of energy sources other than petroleum. Japan should promote the shift from oil to natural gas, which has stable prices.

Needless to say, it is also crucial to promote the generation of nuclear and solar power and to popularize the use of electric vehicles.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 25, 2011)
(2011年2月25日01時19分  読売新聞)


Suu Kyi's determination to peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged

2011-02-25 06:14:56 | 英字新聞

I'm moved to tear several times while editing this column in the morning.
This is also one of the finest columns I've ever read in my life, being edited by an editor with Mainichi Shimbun.
I'm deeply moved.

(Mainichi Japan) February 24, 2011
Suu Kyi's determination to peacefully defy dictatorship remains unchanged
The Mainichi Shimbun resumed Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's column, "Letter from Burma," this year after a 13-year break. I flew to Myanmar where press restrains were in force late last year and visited Suu Kyi's residence prior to the publication of the first part of the column on New Year's Day.

Suu Kyi had been under house arrest there on and off over a 15-year period from 1989 to November last year. I stood by one of the windows of her residence, and thought about how firm her determination must be to spend her life resisting Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The military dictatorship has been in power in Myanmar for nearly half a century since the 1962 coup. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 in a bid to democratize the country, and the party secured 82 percent of the seats in Parliament in a 1990 general election. Nevertheless, the military regime refused to hand over power to the NLD and suppressed pro-democracy movements.
The military regime has continued a reign of terror, detaining and torturing NLD members and supporters. Last autumn, the regime called a general election and released Suu Kyi from house arrest. However, the shift to civilian rule was a mirage and the military is still ruling the country.

Suu Kyi's residence is situated in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar. Since its gate is higher than an adult's average height, it is impossible to look into her home from the street. There is no other house nearby, and since security forces are surrounding her home round the clock, ordinary citizens are reluctant to approach her house out of fear that security authorities might suspect they have ties to Suu Kyi.

Her house is a western-style two-story building with white walls, and security authorities set up a fence with barbed wire behind her home facing a lake. When I saw a scene at the lakeside while waiting for her to return home, I could hardly believe my eyes. There, dozens of couples were dating while people with children were taking a walk. A promenade leads to an amusement park and a Ferris wheel towers over trees.

A place isolated from the outside world and a place where citizens lead their daily lives coexist there -- a ruthless reality.

Suu Kyi, who was separated from her family because of her house arrest, has never lost courage even though she regularly sees citizens nearby who appear happy, and instead tolerates her solitary life. She has reasons for having to do so.

Suu Kyi lost her husband, who had been battling cancer in Britain, in 1999 while she was under house arrest. Feeling that he was close to the end of his life, he applied for a visa to visit Myanmar to meet his wife, only to be rejected. The military regime hoped that Suu Kyi would leave for Britain to meet with her ailing husband. However, she chose to stay home because there was no guarantee that she would be allowed to come back to Myanmar once she left the country. She chose to prioritize her pro-democracy movement rather than stay with her dying husband. Her determination is undoubtedly attributable to the existence of fellow freedom fighters imprisoned as political prisoners.

In December 1995, shortly after she started the column in the Mainichi Shimbun, Suu Kyi told the world political prisoners were barred from meeting their children for over two years and that their family members were being interrogated and harassed.

Her message that she was not the only Myanmar woman detained for her political thoughts appears to reflect a kind of guilty feeling she harbors toward other people who were being suppressed by the military regime.

There is a special reason why Suu Kyi evaded being tortured or imprisoned even though she is the leader of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. Her father played a leading role in winning Myanmar's independence and she is well-known to the world as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The military regime cannot simply take her away from society.

In other words, Suu Kyi is a pro-democracy activist whose safety is guaranteed. Therefore, she is obviously determined to share the pain imposed on her fellow pro-democracy activists. In the second letter of the current series that ran on Feb. 6, she confessed that she made a habit of having breakfast quite late during her house arrest "so that in my hunger I would not forget our comrades who were incarcerated not in their own homes but in prisons, often in places far distant from where their families live."

I have met various people as a journalist, but I clearly remember I felt tense when I first met Suu Kyi. The feeling derived from my sense of reverence -- similar to a feeling I harbored toward citizens who repeatedly staged a sit-in protest in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, to express opposition to the relocation of a U.S. base to the area and those who were involved in a signature-collecting campaign against a so-called plutonium-thermal power generation project. They are determined to confront political power without resorting to violence.

I asked Suu Kyi, a Japanophile who studied at Kyoto University in the 1980s, what she expects Japan to do for the democratization of Myanmar. Instead of answering my question, she asked me whether I, as a Japanese national, have urged the Japanese government to pressure Myanmar's military regime to release all political prisoners. I couldn't nod with confidence to Suu Kyi, who shot a questioning glance at me. (By Pak Chong-chu, Foreign News Department)

毎日新聞 2011年2月24日 0時12分


NZ大地震 「直下型」の怖さ見せつけた

2011-02-24 05:10:46 | 英字新聞
The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 24, 2011)
N.Z. shows horror of near-field quakes
NZ大地震 「直下型」の怖さ見せつけた(2月23日付・読売社説)

It was a bleak scene that prevailed after Tuesday's earthquake in New Zealand--buildings and other structures were reduced to piles of rubble, including an old British-style brick church.

The disaster that struck Christchurch, the largest city on the country's South Island, has palpably demonstrated the ferocity of quakes that have their focus just below urban areas, known as near-field temblors.

The powerful earthquake has caused many casualties, including people crushed under the rubble of houses and other buildings that crumbled to the ground. According to media reports, an office building occupied by about 200 workers collapsed in the quake.

More than 3,000 Japanese are believed to have been in the city at the time of the earthquake, including local residents, tourists and students.

Among them were 23 teachers and students from Toyama College of Foreign Languages, who were visiting Christchurch to attend classes at a local school.

Reports say the teachers and students from Toyama were in the school cafeteria having lunch when the quake hit and that several members of the group were injured, some when they were trapped under the debris of the collapsed building. There has been no contact with some students.

We hope the Foreign Ministry, the travel agency responsible for arranging the group's trip to the city and all others connected to the latest disaster will try to confirm the situation of all Japanese victims as soon as possible.


City overwhelmed

The earthquake has disturbed road traffic and communication networks in the city. Many local residents have evacuated from the devastated city center. Local medical institutions have found their staff and equipment insufficient to treat a large number of wounded people, and a state of emergency has been declared in the city.

The Japanese government has sent an advance team to New Zealand to prepare for rescue operations in devastated areas there. Our country must extend swift and sufficient aid to the stricken area.

New Zealand is an earthquake-prone country, located in the southern Pacific Ocean at the convergence of two gigantic continental plates. Numerous active faults that can cause near-field earthquakes run under the country's inland areas.

This latest disaster came months after another major earthquake struck Christchurch in September, injuring more than 100 people. Tuesday's quake--which had a smaller magnitude than last year's temblor--turned out to be more devastating, as its focus was located only five kilometers underground.

New Zealand sees only one-tenth as many noticeable and major quakes of Japan. Only a few massive earthquakes have ever been recorded in New Zealand, a nation that experienced its first major influx of immigrants from Europe about two centuries ago. Also, little progress has been made in investigating the state of active faults and other seismic elements in the nation.


Quake resistance insufficient

The latest quake has destroyed not only historical structures but many new office and other buildings, including some that were constructed with advanced quake-resistant technology. The degree of damage suffered by these buildings shows their resistance to seismic shocks was less than satisfactory.

The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 was no less illuminating in this respect. The damage caused by that disaster shed light on the lack of sufficient earthquake resistance in many buildings in this country.

Efforts have been made to improve the ability of such structures to withstand earthquakes, but there have been delays in anti-seismic reinforcement work on such structures as primary and middle school buildings nationwide.

It is essential to reexamine our preparedness for massive earthquakes, which could occur anywhere in the nation. This is particularly true with a near-field earthquake predicted to strike Tokyo soon, as well as quakes that seismologists say may happen in the Tokai region and some parts of the Kinki district.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 23, 2011)
(2011年2月23日01時12分  読売新聞)