Tokyo, March 13 (Jiji Press)–Finance Minister Taro Aso marked 3,000 days in office Saturday, at a time when he is struggling to rebuild Japan’s finances.
Aso, who broke the postwar tenure record at the key cabinet post in 2018, is the country’s third-longest-serving finance minister of all time.
Aso will replace Korekiyo Takahashi, who held the post in the early 20th century, as the second-longest-serving finance minister if he remains in the post until October this year.
After becoming finance minister on Dec. 26, 2012, when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s second administration started, Aso spearheaded a consumption tax hike twice.
But the government’s debts have risen by about 20 pct over the eight years. The fiscal condition, worst among advanced nations, has deteriorated further due to huge spending to fight the novel coronavirus crisis.
Despite the lack of progress in fiscal reconstruction, Aso is praised for his stability. “Things go smoothly as he knows every detail” of policies, says a senior Finance Ministry official.
Meanwhile, Aso does not sound excited about his record.
“I didn’t mean to serve for this long,” Aso told a press conference Friday. “I have no intention to aim for rewriting the records of predecessors.”
Japan raised the consumption tax from 5 pct to 8 pct in April 2014 and to 10 pct in October 2019. On the second occasion, the rate for food and some other items was kept unchanged at 8 pct.
The government, however, missed its fiscal reconstruction targets again and again.
Moreover, fiscal spending kept increasing as the government tried to ease the negative impact of the virus crisis on the economy.
The balance of total government debts reached 1,212 trillion yen as of December last year, up 215 trillion yen from eight years before.
Aso also faces the task of restoring public trust in the ministry, which slumped due to the tampering of official records related to the dubious discount sale of state land to school operator Moritomo Gakuen, once linked to Abe’s wife, Akie.
The opposition bloc urges the ministry to release a file, purportedly created by Toshio Akagi, a former official at a ministry local bureau who killed himself after he was allegedly forced to tamper with the records.
The ministry refuses even to confirm the existence of such a file, believed to contain details of the tampering, citing a pending damages lawsuit filed by Akagi’s widow against the central government and former ministry official Nobuhisa Sagawa, who played the leading role in the tampering scandal.