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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

Friday, February 10, 2012

[Provisional Translation]


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Prime Minister, your opening statement please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

PRIME MINISTER NODA: I'm sorry to keep you all waiting. First, I would like to report and explain about personnel matters related to Ministers, Senior Vice Ministers, and Parliamentary Secretaries, including the Minister for Reconstruction. The first Minister for Reconstruction will be Tastuo Hirano, who is from the affected region, and who has worked thus far as Minister for Reconstruction in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Minister of State for Disaster Management. He has visited the region a number of times and earned its trust. I again asked him to be Minister for Reconstruction. Senior Vice Ministers for Reconstruction will be Senior Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Tadahiro Matsushita, who has struggled up until now in the affected region, and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Yoshinori Suematsu, who has been the Special Advisor in charge of reconstruction within my Office. I hope to gain everyone's understanding that with their appointments, in addition to those for the other Senior Vice Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, I have composed a ready force out, giving the greatest possible consideration to maintaining the continuity of policy and understanding the affected region well.

Along with the establishment of the Reconstruction Agency, we have expanded the Cabinet. I have asked former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Masaharu Nakagawa to become Minister of State for Disaster Management, for the New Public Commons, and for Measures on Declining Birthrate, and Gender Equality. I expect him to fulfill the Government's responsibilities related to the important policy matters of strengthening disaster response measures across the country based on the lessons learned from the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the creation of concrete support policies for children and childrearing. In addition, I have asked former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Manabu Terada to again join my office, appointing him Special Advisor to the Prime Minister in charge of administrative reform and the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems.

Continuing on, today at lunch between meetings of the Budget Committee, I took some time to put up the sign of the Reconstruction Agency. The sign was made using pine from Takada-Matsubara. It was a profoundly heavy sign. That heaviness made me realize the weight of the Government's responsibility toward making the Reconstruction Agency into an organization that will meet the expectations of the affected region. We feel that we must meet those expectations. And that said, I would like to take a moment to speak about the role of the Reconstruction Agency and my thoughts on it.

The Reconstruction Agency will be a kind of control tower for reconstruction. I believe that it will play two main roles. The first will be the role of responding swiftly and in a one-stop manner to the requests of municipal governments in the affected region. As you can see on the panel here, we will be establishing Reconstruction Bureaus  in three prefectures affected by the disaster. Each will have two branch offices, to be located in the coastal area. Furthermore, we will place administrative offices in Aomori and Ibaraki. I hope that these postures will fulfill the mission of ensuring one-stop, swift responses.

Then there is the Agency's second role, which is to overcome the barriers of our vertically segmented bureaucracy. The Reconstruction Agency will be headed by myself, and is positioned above each Ministry and Agency. Being able to coordinate actions swiftly and across organizations is more important for this Agency than anything else. Thus, I have especially strengthened the mandate of the Reconstruction Agency, giving it authority to carry out comprehensive actions, to coordinate, and to act. This Agency will be able to draw up a lump sum reconstruction-related budget, earmarking and distributing the budget at its discretion. I hope that this Agency will be able to get things done through comprehensive coordination and barrier-crossing actions. Through one-stop, thoroughly swift actions and cross-boundary efforts, this Agency will be able to overcome any problems associated with vertical barriers. I believe that fulfilling that mission is the aspiration of the 250 people who have joined the Agency at this time. We were able to select personnel from every corner of every ministry and agency who are well acquainted with government work and who hold mastery over the systems relevant to the Agency. I want these personnel to thoroughly stick to the principle of action in the field. Regardless of all precedent, I want them to put forth strenuous and unremitting efforts in order to connect with the hearts of those in the affected area and to fulfill their mission.

In addition to everything else, yesterday I announced the first Special Zone for Reconstruction. I announced the approval of the first zone. With the third supplementary budget and the budget for the next fiscal year, which is currently being deliberated in the Diet, we have set aside a total of approximately 2.3 trillion yen for reconstruction subsidies. We have already received provisional applications for a portion of this 2.3 trillion yen, about 500 billion yen, from 78 municipalities. I want to quickly decide on allocations, accelerating reconstruction projects in a flash.

Continuing on, I want to speak about issues that now face us in recovery and reconstruction moving forward. We have given our all to recovery and reconstruction up until this point, but there is still much to be done. Some have said that we are slow. I want to take such criticism earnestly. Based on this understanding, as you can see written in this panel, I feel there are five main issues.

The first is the reconstruction of housing and the transfer of residential areas to plateaus. The second is the wide-area disposal of debris. The third is efforts to secure employment. The fourth is efforts to prevent those in the affected region from feeling isolated and to care for their emotional well-being. The fifth is support to help those who fled following the nuclear accident return home. Of these, I want to talk about efforts for the wide-area disposal of rubble in particular.

The rubble cleared out from around residential areas is now being collected in ports and empty lots. These places are serving as temporary depots. There is a limit to the ability of the affected areas to dispose of all the rubble moving forward. It is said that the amount of rubble that need to be cleaned up equals to 11 years' worth in Iwate Prefecture and 19 years' worth in Miyagi Prefecture under normal circumstances. For this reason, it is not possible for the affected area to clean everything up on its own. What this means is that it is now indispensible for us to have a wide-area disposal of rubble. We must split up rubble, and after confirming its safety, deal with it in areas across the country. Right now we are receiving proactive support for this from Tokyo, Yamagata Prefecture, Akita Prefecture, and Shizuoka Prefecture - including Shimada City in Shizuoka Prefecture in particular. This has become a topic of discussion at meetings of the members of the Cabinet. The Cabinet as a whole will be calling on all municipalities across the country to join in for this wide-area disposal - this is something that I especially want to report here today. While working to thoroughly communicate safety information, I hope to increase the amount of cooperation we are receiving from municipalities.

In addition, there is one thing to report related to Fukushima. I have said time and time again that without the rebirth of Fukushima, there can be no rebirth for Japan. Today, with the Cabinet Decision to approve the Bill for Special Measures for the Rebirth of Fukushima, we took another step toward making recovery in Fukushima a reality. I would like to see this bill enacted at an early date.

This is all I have to say for my opening statement and explanation today. Thank you.

: We will now move on to the Q&A session. When you are called on, we would appreciate it if you could first state your name and affiliation. Mr. Sekiguchi, please.

REPORTER: I am Sekiguchi of the Tokyo Shimbun. The Reconstruction Agency is being positioned as a control tower for reconstruction operations, over and above other ministries and agencies. However, given the situation in which authority for individual reconstruction operations lies with existing ministries, such as the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), there have been some who question whether it will actually be possible for the Reconstruction Agency to break down the vertical organizational structures of Kasumigaseki bureaucracy and actually function in the manner of a control tower. What is your view of such observations? Also, with regard to the one-stop functions of the agency that you have mentioned, given that the total personnel structure amounts to 250 people, the Reconstruction Bureaus in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima will each be staffed only by approximately 30 people. There are concerns that these staffing levels will mean that these offices will be unable to process the increased number of applications and requests from local government, thus causing a delay in reconstruction operations. Do you believe that the Reconstruction Agency will be able to respond swiftly to the requests received from the disaster-affected regions and meet their expectations?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: As I mentioned in my opening comments, the question of whether the Reconstruction Agency can truly be a useful resource for the disaster-affected communities will depend on its ability to provide a one-stop response to requests and to overcome the vertical organizational structures that you mentioned in your question. To that end, and as I have just explained, the Reconstruction Agency has been granted strong powers of comprehensive coordination and implementation. Utilizing these strong powers, the key will be whether this new organization can function and whether it will be useful for reconstruction. As I am the head of the new organization, I will do everything I can to exert strong leadership.

You also asked a question concerning the organizational structure. You are right in pointing out that in the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima the Reconstruction Bureaus will have a combined total of 90 staff members. However, you should also bear in mind that this represents a significant increase on the staff numbers under the previous Local Emergency Response Headquarters structure, and the staff at the Reconstruction Agency in Tokyo will not be permanently manning their desks in Tokyo either. In actual fact, as we will be thoroughly implementing a policy of prioritizing locally-oriented operations, the 90 staff members stationed in the three prefectures that I have just mentioned will be joined by staff dispatched frequently from Tokyo, who will also work hard in the local communities, responding flexibly to the situation.

I have just received a memo informing me that in my opening comments concerning the prefectures that are cooperating with the wide-area disposal of debris from the disaster-affected areas, I omitted to mention Kanagawa Prefecture. I would like to express my appreciation to Governor Kuroiwa of Kanagawa Prefecture also.

: Next, please. Yes, Mr. Yamane.

REPORTER: I am Yamane of Kyodo News. I have a question concerning the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems, which is another priority challenge for your administration in addition to reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake. The opposition parties are remaining unwavering in their stance of refusing to engage in consultations relating to the comprehensive reform. The end-of-March deadline for the submission of related draft bills is drawing close, so how do you intend to achieve a breakthrough in this impasse? Also, within your own party, former leader Mr. Ichiro Ozawa has indicated his opposition to an increase in consumption tax. How do you intend to respond?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: Our basic stance remains unchanged in that the ruling parties of the Government have compiled a draft plan, on the basis of which we will certainly seek to engage with the opposition parties in consultation, after which the draft plan will be expanded into an outline. In terms of inter-party communications, today an explanation was made by the party concerning the comments received from the opposition parties on the basis of preliminary calculations, and this exchange of opinions and the preliminary calculations were subsequently made public. This is not something that should merely been put into the public domain, but rather, when explanations are put forward concerning the various positions being taken by the political parties, these should be then taken further, in a process led by the chairs of the policy research councils. It is through such a process that I seek once again to request the opposition parties to engage in consultations. I will continue to tenaciously seek out any possibilities for inter-party consultations.

Furthermore, while I am aware of the various opinions within the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), I believe that from June last year when the final draft proposal for the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems were first compiled, and then once again on January 6, when the draft plan was finalized, a process of careful discussion has been ongoing within the party. These discussions have now been going on for almost one year and I don't think there has been any deficiency in this process. Therefore, with the concerted backing of the ruling parties of the Government, I will make every effort to ensure the passage of the bills.

: Next person please. Yes, Mr. Yamazaki.

REPORTER: I am Yamazaki of TV Asahi. As you have just mentioned, with regard to the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems, some preliminary calculations made by the party were made public. According to these calculations, by fiscal 2075 a maximum increase in fiscal resources of 7.1 percent, or to put it another way, an increase in consumption tax of 7.1 percent will be necessary. Firstly I would like to hear your views on these preliminary calculations. Also, given the recent demographic changes in Japan I believe that new calculations may be necessary. What is your impression of the scale of financial resources that would be necessary as a result of new calculations?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: First of all I would like to point out that these are preliminary figures that were created in spring last year as one exercise to consider the creation of a new pension system and were requested by certain members of the commission on the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems. Naturally, depending on the assumptions and hypotheses that are put forward the results of such calculations will change. Besides, after these calculations had been made and after discussion had taken place on them they were then withdrawn from discussion. As a result people outside the commission were not aware of this information. The leaders of the party at the time were unaware of such calculations and neither was I aware of them, even in my government position as Minister of Finance at the time. Given this background these preliminary calculations do not represent a new decision-making process or the establishment of a design for a new system. I believe that following the disclosure of these preliminary calculations, discussion has become somewhat scattered.

These figures will not be treated as material for considering a rise in consumption tax by 2015. When we compile a fundamentally reorganized pension structure and submit draft bills next year, it will be necessary to engage at that time in discussion based on accurate calculations, but it is now the case that the preliminary figures have been released into the public domain. They project a 7.1 percent increase in financial resource requirements 63 years from now in 2075. As these calculations were based primarily on a simulation of the provision of the minimum social security pension, I think it is therefore regrettable that attention should be unduly focused on them, thus leading us away from calm and reasoned debate. Therefore, we cannot base our explanations on the basis of preliminary calculations that have already been withdrawn. In order to engage in proper discussion we need to start from a point where the ruling and opposition parties are agreed on what statistics and figures it would be best to use, including new demographic projections, what will happen to the rate of salary increase, or what will happen to interest rates, for example. That is the basis from which to start a level-headed discussion. I would therefore like for explanations to take place, led by the chairs of the policy research councils of each party, which take into account these various considerations and their positioning, including the content and method of preliminary calculations and seek understanding in that way.

: Next person. Mr. Takenaka, please.

REPORTER: I am Takenaka from Reuters. I have a question related to Iran. Economic sanctions will be implemented against Iran - economic sanctions that will prohibit financial institutions which have transactions with the Iranian Central Bank from conducting financial activities in the United States. In response, Japan has announced that it will decrease its crude oil imports from Iran. What is anticipated right now in terms of Japanese financial institutions being waived from the sanctions? Also, how much of a decrease in crude oil imports are you anticipating? And lastly, while on the one hand crude oil from Iran will decrease, on the other hand the possibility of operating nuclear power stations is getting slimmer. What are your thoughts on the procurement of alternative energy sources?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: First of all, Japan shares the concerns of the international community with regard to Iran's nuclear development. What is fundamental is dialogue and pressure. The pressure element has been and is being implemented in the context of international coordination. On the other hand, Japan has also independently urged Iran to comply through dialogue. While in principle I believe a diplomatic and peaceful solution is desirable, there is also the element of sanctions, as you just mentioned. For example, Japan's crude oil imports from Iran have decreased by 40% over the past five years. There is no doubt that we will continue to follow this course of action. Regarding this and other matters, Japan and the United States are now holding discussions at the working level. The purpose of the ongoing discussions is to get Japanese banks removed from the list of financial institutions subject to the National Defense Authorization Act. But nevertheless, Japan will be decreasing its crude oil imports from Iran. And Japan has explained to the United States that it has decreased its crude oil imports over the past five years. The question is then, from where do we get the alternative crude oil? Regarding this matter, Minister for Foreign Affairs Koichiro Gemba and others are now working to secure alternative energy sources and crude oil while visiting countries in the Middle East since the start of this year.

: Next person. Mr. Nanao, please.

REPORTER: I am Nanao of Nico Nico Douga. My question concerns the restarting of the nuclear power stations. This will ultimately be a political decision of the Prime Minister and relevant Cabinet members. Amid all that is said about the consent of the local governments being indispensable, is it possible, for example, that a political decision will be made even if consent is not obtained? Can you discuss what you specifically envision with regards to this political decision?

PRIME MINISTER NODA: A certain process has been set forth for the restarting of the nuclear power stations. The first step is stress tests conducted by nuclear operators. These stress tests have been reviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Based on this, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) will then conduct an assessment. Following this, the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) will conduct a confirmation. After this step, indeed as you mentioned a moment ago, based on such factors as whether or not understanding is obtained from the local community members, a final political decision will be made. That is the process. That said, things will not make very much progress without the understanding of the local community members. Therefore, if necessary, once we have gone through the process - not with the intention of restarting or not restarting the nuclear power stations - but once we have gone through this process, at that point, if restarting is absolutely necessary, we will explain this thoroughly to the community members to obtain their understanding in some cases. I believe it is possible that the Government will come forward and give an explanation to the communities.

: We are now out of time so with that I will bring the press conference to a close. Thank you for your cooperation.

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