The government’s downsized tax panel embarked on a new three-year term Monday, tasked with addressing a pile of reform issues.

“We have issues we need to take time to discuss and issues we have to deal with swiftly,” said Hiromitsu Ishi, chairman of the Tax Commission, during the panel’s first general meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. Ishi is also president of Hitotsubashi University.

One of the most controversial issues is when and how to raise the consumption tax, which currently stands at 5 percent.

Tax specialists have stressed that the government needs to raise the tax sharply in the future to cover budget deficits.

Medium-term tax reform proposals issued in June saw the Tax Commission advise the government to increase the consumption tax to 10 percent or higher within the next 10 to 15 years.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has repeatedly said he will not raise the consumption tax while he is in office.

For the new term, the number of panel members has been cut from 29 to 20.

The reduction was partly implemented to speed up the decision-making process, Finance Ministry officials said.

It was based on the Cabinet’s decision in 1999 to streamline government panels and commissions.

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