Koizumi reform pitch in last Diet-opener


In his final speech as Liberal Democratic Party president to mark the opening of the ordinary Diet session Friday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterated his plan to trim the civil service, consolidate state-backed financial institutions and push further administrative reforms.

Koizumi delivered his 2006 basic policy outline at the opening of the 150-day ordinary session, which runs through June 18.

“With momentum from postal privatization, I will continue reforms to create a simple and efficient government,” Koizumi told lawmakers.

Specifically, he pledged to reduce the number of central government employees, which now stands at 690,000, by 5 percent, within five years and to reassess salary levels to ensure they are in line with those of the private sector.

Koizumi has pledged to step down as LDP president and prime minister in September.

The speech appeared aimed at securing his legacy. At the outset, he asserted that his “no reform, no growth” mantra has proven correct.

His rivals in the LDP had argued that the government should carry out more economic pump-priming before embarking on economic reforms, while Koizumi maintained a relatively austere fiscal policy and pressured banks to dispose of their bad loans.

“Now the economy is on the road to a private-sector-led recovery, is meeting goals on the disposal of bad loans and is not relying on the government’s fiscal spending,” Koizumi claimed in his speech.

The prime minister’s bold claims on domestic economic reforms stood in sharp contrast to his brief remarks on foreign policy at the end of the speech, which had little substance.

“Exchanges with China and South Korea in wide-ranging areas such as the economy, culture, art and sports are more active than ever,” he said.

“I would like to keep building future-oriented relationships based on mutual understanding and trust (with China and South Korea) . . . despite differences of opinion or conflicts over certain issues,” Koizumi said, indirectly referring to Tokyo’s various diplomatic disputes with its two neighbors, including over his repeated visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.

He did not elaborate on issues related to the war-related Shinto shrine, which honors 14 Class-A Japanese war criminals as well as Japan’s war dead.

Koizumi pledged to submit a bill to the ordinary Diet session that would allow women in the Imperial family and their descendants to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

However, he avoided making a specific pledge to pass the bill, apparently due to opposition to the proposed change from some LDP lawmakers.

Gist of Koizumi’s speech to Diet

The government will:

* Continue structural reforms and realize a small and efficient government.

* Try to gain Diet approval of a bill to promote administrative reforms.

* Compile options and schedules for fiscal rehabilitation around June.

* Review the entire tax system, including the consumption tax.

* Strengthen measures to protect children from crime.

* Put in place measures to prevent fabrication of structural quake-resistance data.

* Enhance child-care assistance, including promotion of child-care leave.

* Develop future-oriented relations with China and South Korea despite differences in views and conflicts over certain bilateral issues.

* Submit a bill to the Diet revising the Imperial House Law to allow female monarchs in line with a report by a panel of experts calling for the change.