By Machino Yuki, Furuyashiki Naoko, and Tsurita Yuki
During the press conference held after the Cabinet meeting on July 13, Finance Minister and Minister of State for Financial Services Aso Taro criticized the government’s policy to request financial institutions to take action against bars and restaurants that do not comply with the suspension of serving alcoholic beverages. Aso is in charge of financial affairs.
Aso was briefed on the policy by an official of the Financial Services Agency (FSA) on July 9 (Japan standard time). Aso was visiting Italy to attend an international conference at the time. He was briefed on the policy after Minister in charge of Economic Revitalization Nishimura Yasutoshi had already announced the policy at a press conference on the evening of July 8. After the official explained the policy to Aso, he told the official, “I think the policy is wrong, but let’s leave it as it is,” sources said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Kajiyama Hiroshi received a detailed report on the policy just before Nishimura announced it. “I felt great discomfort with the policy and instructed my staff to reconfirm the purpose of the policy,” Kajiyama said, according to sources.
While the METI officials were contacting the Cabinet Secretariat’s novel coronavirus response office, however, Nishimura’s press conference started. After the policy backfired, Nishimura has repeatedly explained, saying, “I made the decision after coordinating with the relevant ministries and agencies,” but in reality, the decision was apparently made haphazardly without sufficient consideration or coordination.
The problem, however, is that if the financial institutions had followed the government’s request and increased pressure on their business partners [bars and restaurants], the government would have itself encouraged the “abuse of superior position,” which is prohibited under the Act on Prohibition of Private Monopolization and Maintenance of Fair Trade. Officials from each ministry and agency explain that they repeatedly confirmed with the novel coronavirus response office that the government had no intention to restrict loans.” However, the ministries and agencies, including the Cabinet ministers, are responsible for allowing Nishimura to announce the policy without discussing the policy in detail and for not stopping him out of concern that the policy may violate the law.
Secretary-General Mizuguchi Naoto of the All Japan Liquor Merchants Association has been busy over the policy, which requests banks to suspend business with bars and restaurants that do not comply with the suspension of liquor service. “This government policy is like asking the private sector to do something about bars restaurants that do not comply with a request from the central and local governments,” fumed Mizuguchi. “The government says, ‘It’s a ‘request,’ but if the policy mentions financial institutions, most vendors will take it as coercion. I’m really appalled by the policy.”
“The relevant ministries and agencies should have put a stop to this policy from the start,” said Chiba University Professor Emeritus Shindo Muneyuki, who specializes in public administration. “Both the Cabinet ministers and the bureaucrats were, however, unable to make a proper judgment because they are only concerned about the sensitivities of the Prime Minister’s Office. Therein lies the largest problem.” The professor points out that the current situation is the result of the government’s continued heavy-handed political approach and exclusive focus on hosting the Olympics. (Abridged)