In his policy speech before the Diet on Sept. 29, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto reiterated apologies to the public for appointing a politician once convicted of bribery to the Cabinet he formed earlier this month.

With regard to policy matters, he called the next three years a period of intensive reform and repeated his resolve to carry out reforms in six areas: administration, fiscal structure, economic structure, the monetary system, social security and education. The prime minister stressed the need to restructure and deregulate the nation’s economy if economic vitality is to be restored. Toward that end he spoke of a plan to cut corporate taxes.

“From the viewpoint of promoting structural reform of the economy, corporate taxes will be reviewed in a direction to lower relevant tax rates, and its conclusion should be obtained next fiscal year,” he said. He added that re-examining the base of taxable incomes will also be necessary.

Touching on his ill-fated appointment of Koko Sato, a Lower House member of Hashimoto’s Liberal Democratic Party, as director general of the Management and Coordination Agency, Hashimoto told a plenary session of the Lower House, “I reflect deeply on my lack of consideration for the gravity of public opinion, which seeks higher ethical standards for politics.”

The apology came at the beginning of a 75-day extraordinary Diet session. It was the first time for the prime minister to apologize in the Diet over the appointment of Sato, The agency chief is in charge of administrative reform, the policy priority of the Hashimoto administration.

Sato, who in 1986 received a suspended sentence for bribe-taking in connection with the Lockheed payoff scandal of the 1970s, was forced to step down Sept. 22, only 12 days after assuming the post, as criticism mounted from the public, the opposition camp and the LDP’s two Diet allies over his appointment. The fiasco raised questions about Hashimoto’s leadership and his sense of political ethics. The Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake at one point threatened to quit the alliance with the LDP unless Sato bowed out.

Hashimoto pledged to address the problem of political ethics through consultation with SDP and Sakigake leaders. Matters to be discussed include political donations from corporations and organizations, he added.

“From now on, I will more carefully listen to public voices and accomplish the planned six reforms, particularly administrative reform,” Hashimoto said.

During the current Diet session, the opposition camp is expected to attack Hashimoto on ethics-related matters, including the appointment of Sato, as well as alleged shady political donations to several major LDP figures from oil wholesaler Junichi Izui, who is now on trial for tax evasion and fraud.

Major bills to be discussed include one to help replenish the nation’s coffers, one to a create a public nursing-care insurance system for ailing elderly and another to tighten penalties against “sokaiya” corporate extortionists and businesses that pay them off. Hashimoto stressed that the reforms are indispensable if the nation is to successfully meet the challenges of the coming century, which will bring considerable socioeconomic changes, including the rapid graying of society.

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