Azumi enters fray with tax-hike talk

Finance chief warns public faces costly Tohoku rebuild


Staff Writer

New Finance Minister Jun Azumi repeated Monday that he may ask the public to pay higher taxes to shoulder the burden of reconstructing the disaster-hit Tohoku region, saying he is ready to do his utmost to secure the fiscal resources.

In a group interview at the Finance Ministry, Azumi, who was appointed Friday, pledged the government will do all it can to cut wasteful spending.

But efforts to rebuild the disaster-hit area and its costs “shouldn’t be (a debt left) to future generations,” he said.

Azumi added he will work closely with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to avoid stalling economic growth, even if taxes are hiked.

On the supplementary budget, Azumi said mid-October will be the target for the government to submit the necessary bills to the Diet. Earlier Friday the Miyagi Prefecture-native said in an address to Foreign Ministry bureaucrats that they should not be tight with money and be ready to give plenty to those in need.

“This will be a budget that will support the people in Tohoku who are ready to move forward,” he said during the interview.

On targeting the strong yen in the currency markets, Azumi acknowledged that the current rate is creating a “severe situation” for domestic manufacturers and companies finally showing signs of recovery from the March 11 disaster.

Azumi called this week’s Group of Seven meeting of finance ministers and central bank chiefs his “debut match,” saying the summit, which kicks off in France on Friday, “will be an occasion to create a hotline with (U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy) Geithner and others alike.”

The finance minister said it will be his goal to make it a shared understanding that an excessively strong yen does not benefit the global economy.

Azumi worked for NHK before turning to politics and winning a Lower House seat in 1996. The 49-year-old was named the DPJ’s diet affairs chief in January after serving as senior vice minister of defense beginning last September.

Pundits were quick to voice their concern over the appointment of Azumi as head of the Finance Ministry, since he isn’t specifically known for his fiscal expertise.

“I can see why there is all sorts of talk about me,” Azumi said during the interview, adding he heard the same concerns when named the DPJ’s diet affairs chief in January.

“But in the end, we passed over 80 percent of the bills submitted to the Diet,” he said, expressing confidence that he will be able to prove his worth as finance minister.