Aso decides he will take cash handout

Now argues consumption needs boost

by Masami Ito

After several months of equivocating, Prime Minister Taro Aso finally came out and declared Monday evening he will accept his portion of the controversial ¥2 trillion cash handout, contradicting his previous position that he wouldn’t take the cash.

“I will accept the cash handout,” Aso told reporters. “I will use it immediately to stimulate consumption.”

Aso said last year he would not take the cash and went as far as branding rich people who accepted it as “mean-spirited.” Aso, the grandson of the late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, is an heir to a major coal mining and cement business in Fukuoka Prefecture.

He has been accused of constantly flip-flopping over policies and contradicting himself. But Monday night he denied such criticism, stressing the objective of the cash handout scheme has shifted from supporting people’s livelihoods to expanding domestic demand through consumption.

“I honestly did have a feeling that it was mean-spirited for someone like me to accept” the money, Aso said. “But now, the aim has changed drastically and much more importance is placed on stimulating consumption. So, I will participate in stimulating consumption somehow in my (home) district.”

The revenue for the cash benefit scheme is to be secured by bills related to the fiscal 2008 second extra budget expected to clear the Diet on Wednesday. After this, each individual, including registered foreigners, will receive ¥12,000. An additional ¥8,000 will be given to people 18 or younger or 65 or older.

A notification instructing Liberal Democratic Party members to accept the cash is to be sent out by LDP Secretary General Hiroyuki Hosoda.

Like Aso, administrative reform minister Akira Amari declared earlier he would decline the money.

“Before, I was told that it would be up to each individual” to decide whether to accept the cash, Amari said. “But if the party decides its principle and if the Cabinet members should all unify their actions, I will follow the orders of the Cabinet as a Cabinet member.”

Polls have shown that the cash benefit program is unpopular with the public.

Opposition parties have slammed Aso’s key economic policy, saying the ¥2 trillion should be used for other purposes such as medical treatment and education. The Democratic Party of Japan issued a notification to its lawmakers last week instructing them to refuse the handout.

Even some members of the LDP have openly questioned the program, including former administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe, who quit the party over the issue, and former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.