Welfare minister Chikara Sakaguchi on Tuesday announced plans to speed up the drafting of public-pension reforms and reveal the scheme this summer, a few months ahead of schedule.

“We intend to display the outline of the pension system reforms our ministry is envisioning before the framework of budget requests for fiscal 2004 take shape by the end of August,” said Sakaguchi, head of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Sakaguchi voiced his opposition to the goal of curbing the growth of the potential public burden.

The government’s 2003 economic reform blueprint, revealed last week, envisages having the burden — the ratio of taxes, social insurance premiums and fiscal deficit to national income — stand at around 50 percent in the future.

The ratio stood at around 47 percent in previous years.

Concerned that pension benefits could be victimized by the government’s plan, which will be reflected in the budget arrangement for fiscal 2004, Sakaguchi stressed the need to speed up his ministry’s work to put forward its own proposal.

“It can be said that the situation indicates pension benefits could be cut drastically unless we lay out our plan (in time for the budget arrangement),” Sakaguchi said. “If the government continues issuing deficit-covering bonds, that alone will make the potential public burden closer to 50 percent, and pension benefits will keep declining.”

“That is not permissible and would stir concern among the people.”

Referring to the draft being worked on by the ministry, Sakaguchi said a plan to fix pension premiums at 20 percent of annual income is in the works.

“We will set numerical targets to show the ceiling of pension premiums and the lower limit of pension benefits. We are also taking into account the impact of the nation’s low birthrate and economic situation,” Sakaguchi said.

He added that he feels a need to clarify the size of the pension-funding burden that should be shouldered by the government.

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