• Kyodo

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The Cabinet has approved its annual economic policy guideline, which promotes the digitalization of society and the further adoption of telecommuting under the "new normal" being created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Increasing the government's effort to build "national resilience" to natural disasters and to minimize the damage to people's lives and livelihoods was also hastily included in the annual economic policy blueprint in light of the torrential rain that damaged Kyushu and other areas earlier this month.

But the economic guideline, announced Friday, failed to make any reference to specific goals for fiscal reconstruction, including the target of bringing Japan's primary balance — tax revenues minus expenses other than debt-servicing costs — into the black by fiscal 2025, which was stipulated in the 2018 and 2019 guidelines.

Finance Minister Taro Aso has said there is no need to immediately review the target, even though economic fallout from the pandemic is highly likely to exacerbate Japan's poor fiscal health, which has long been the worst among the major economies with a towering public debt of over ¥1.1 quadrillion ($10.3 trillion).

Under a yearlong "intensive reform period" for Japan's digitalization, a proposal to link the My Number personal identification system with drivers licenses and foreign residence cards was also specified in the plan, along with the goal of offering administrative procedures online, in principle.

Launched in 2015 with the issuance of a 12-digit number to each citizen and foreign resident, the My Number system was designed to let people access governmental services online.

But the lack of a legal requirement to actually apply for the free "Individual Number Card" containing an IC chip has led to a low adoption rate. Critics say this rate is responsible for slow delivery of the government's ¥100,000 cash handouts aimed at easing the economic pain from the pandemic. Card holders can apply for the payments online instead of by mail.

As for telecommuting, the government plans to set numerical targets so remote work takes root, especially among small and midsize companies. It will also draw up guidelines for business managers to push on with corporate digitalization by next March.

"By taking on changes and leveraging diversity, our country will enhance toughness and form a 'new normal,' making use of our unique strength and characteristics," the guideline said.

To strengthen communities' disaster prevention capabilities, the government will promote risk management via digital technology and infrastructure reinforcement measures, such as moving the nation's power lines and power grids underground.

The importance of disaster management was recently reviewed in light of the week of torrential rain from July 3 that killed over 70 people in Kyushu and other areas, as well as the deadly 2018 west Japan floods and Typhoon Hagibis last year.

The government's growth strategy was also approved by the Cabinet, with the re-examination of long-fixed interbank transfer fees that create a bottleneck for cashless transactions and the improvement of working environments for freelance and moonlighting workers referred to as challenges.

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