Postal reforms to create giants: Maehara

New opposition leader says private sector will never compete with them

by Reiji Yoshida

Newly elected Democratic Party of Japan chief Seiji Maehara locked horns with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for the first time in the Diet on Wednesday, with the opposition leader lashing out at the revived postal privatization bills.

Maehara argued that the postal bills will only create mammoth financial institutions under strong government control that private-sector firms will never be able to compete with on an equal footing.

“The funds held in postal savings are roughly equal to those deposited with the five major city banks combined, and the size of postal insurance is roughly equal to the four major life insurance companies put together,” Maehara told a plenary session at the House of Representatives.

“How could existing banks and insurance companies compete (with them) on an equal footing?” Maehara asked.

The DPJ is drawing up an alternative package for postal reform, which would reduce the size of the postal savings and insurance services first before privatizing or abolishing them.

Koizumi argued that the size of postal savings and insurance operations should be left to market forces to decide after the privatization. Predetermining the scale of their operations would make it impossible for them to maintain the current workforce and nationwide post office network, he said.

All of the government-owned shares in the privatized postal savings and insurance companies would be sold on the market by October 2017, although a government-linked holding company would still be allowed to buy back some of the shares later on.

Once the transition period through October 2017 is over, the government should not intervene in the management of the two firms, and it should not determine the size of the firms’ operations in advance, Koizumi told the Lower House.

Maehara, who took the post after his predecessor, Katsuya Okada, resigned over the DPJ’s humiliating defeat in the Sept. 11 Lower House election, indicated the party will not boycott Diet sessions — a typical opposition tactic — to resist the government-proposed bills.

“The DPJ is willing to cooperate with the government and ruling parties if it is in the interest of the nation,” Maehara said in an apparent effort to wipe out the DPJ’s image as a force that merely opposes any government policy without proposing alternatives.