JNR debt should be figured into reform, panel chief says

Ways to repay the 28 trillion yen debt the nation incurred in connection with the now-defunct Japanese National Railways should be found to take advantage of the government’s fiscal structural reforms, according to a key Liberal Democratic Party member.

That linkage is natural, because this figure accounts for nearly 10 percent of the government’s cumulative debts, Yoshiyuki Kamei, chairman of the LDP’s committee on the debts of the former JNR, said in a recent interview with The Japan Times. Mar. 31 marks the 10th anniversary since the state-run JNR, with 37.1 trillion yen in debts, was dissolved and split into seven private JR group firms.

While services of JR group firms have improved in the past 10 years, the debts the government inherited from the split-up have ballooned to some 28 trillion yen as of this month because of accumulated interest. Kamei, also acting chairman of the party’s Policy Affairs Research Council, said that his committee, which aims to wrap up its discussion by June, will deliver its argument at the government’s Conference on Fiscal Structural Reform. “The issue is not a mere problem of the former JNR debts; it is the government’s fiscal problem,” Kamei told The Japan Times.

Some 14.5 trillion yen of the debt was inherited by JR group firms, and the rest was assumed by the semigovernmental JNR Settlement Corp. Asked how long it will take to repay the debts, he said that it would be at least 20 years. “For example, even paying 1 trillion yen would be a tough thing when we intend to implement fiscal structural reform,” he said. “Paying 1 trillion yen every year will take 20 years — without interest payments. If we include the interest payments, it would take 40 years or more,” he said.