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Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010
Gemba: DPJ open to cross-party talks
By ALEX MARTIN
Koichiro Gemba, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's Policy Research Committee chairman, expressed willingness to undergo tough negotiations with the opposition camp to pass critical bills, now that his party faces a divided Diet.
Gemba, who doubles as state minister in charge of civil service reform in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, told reporters during an interview Friday that one of his ultimate goals was to pass a bill revamping the civil service system during next year's ordinary Diet session.
"I expect persistent negotiations will become necessary" in realizing this goal, he said. The bill aims to cut roughly ¥1.1 trillion, or one-fifth of current personnel costs, by, among other steps, cutting the number of national public servants and limiting the number of new hires.
A related bill, aimed to unify personnel decisions for ministry executives under an envisioned Cabinet personnel office and putting the brakes on the practice of "amakudari" was submitted but scrapped during the last ordinary Diet session.
Amakudari refers to the practice of senior government officials taking early retirement and landing high-paying positions at government-linked bodies or private firms in the jurisdiction of their former government bodies.
Gemba insisted, however, that the scrapped bill was only part of the big plan, and said his party must work to present an overall picture of the reform bill while exchanging opinions with the opposition.
"We must move forward while carefully observing what other parties think" about the issue, he said.
Gemba, who is also the DPJ point man on looking for ways to reverse the nation's low birthrate, ensure gender equality and press for "new public service" — a position established by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama — said that to compensate for the nation's decreasing workforce and struggling economy, it is important to improve the working environment for women.
"The problem is that many women willing to work cannot find jobs," Gemba said. "There is also a tendency for nations with higher female employment rates to also have high economic growth rates," he said.
"These are some themes that the DPJ would like to emphasize," he said.
Regarding the contentious push to raise the consumption tax, Gemba stuck to his previous claim that despite the DPJ-led bloc's recent election loss of its Upper House majority, the public did not fundamentally disapprove of launching talks on tax reforms, and said a project team should be established by this fall to continue deliberations on the issue.
"In order to strengthen and maintain our social security system, fundamental tax reforms are necessary," he said.