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Saturday, March 6, 2004
Furor over postal reform minister rumbles on
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went on the defensive Friday after posts minister Taro Aso voiced anger at being bypassed in a decision to appoint a postal privatization minister.
"I only answered (that such a post would be formed) because you reporters asked whether I would," the prime minister told reporters Friday night, stressing that it was not an official announcement. "And I didn't explain it to anybody else."
On Tuesday, Koizumi told reporters of his plans to appoint a special minister in charge of privatizing the nation's postal services, although Aso is the minister who oversees mail delivery, postal savings and postal insurance operations.
At a regular news conference Friday morning, Aso indicated he was displeased at the plan, saying, "Nothing has been explained to me yet."
Koizumi rushed to patch things up, noting that Aso himself is now a reformist who advocates the postal privatization initiative.
"Mr. Aso realizes well the importance of this reform," he said. "So he now is willing to cooperate with us."
But Aso, a former policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, is widely considered to be reluctant to overhaul the nation's postal services.
Aso has argued that the mail, savings and insurance services should be kept intact under a new privatized body, not divided or abolished through privatization.
Despite his comments Friday, Koizumi has already bypassed Aso in launching postal reform discussions.
Koizumi has tasked Financial Services Minister Heizo Takenaka to draw up the framework of the privatization plan by the fall at the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy, an advisory body that operates under the prime minister.
"I think (Koizumi) may come to need a fair judge to coordinate (the interests of) the financial and postal sectors," one senior government official said, asking not to be named.