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News Briefs II

Japan Punishes Finance Officials

The Washington Post

Japan's Ministry of Finance disciplined 112 of its officials for improperly accepting meals and entertainment from financial institutions that they supervise, the ministry said Monday. The action continues a crackdown in some parts of the government here against practices long considered a standard perk of the job.

Two senior officials, including the head of the securities bureau, resigned. Others, including Eisuke Sakakibara, the influential vice minister for international affairs for his ability to influence exchange rates, received official reprimands.

"We have found that many employees had excessive relationships with private financial institutions," Finance Minister Hikaru Matsunaga said at a news conference. "This is truly regretful and I deeply apologize." Matsunaga said that as a show of atonement, he and the vice ministers and bureau heads would take 20 percent voluntary pay cuts for one month.

For decades, Japanese banks and companies have taken regulators out to high-cost restaurants and other places of entertainment. The purpose, both sides generally contend, is to facilitate a free exchange of views and information that can be used for building economic consensus and stability.

Recently, however, prosecutors have charged that it is often really a form of bribery, in which banks and companies expect special treatment or inside information from the officials. Foreign governments want to break up the practice because they view it as key decisions in Japan being made behind closed doors.

FCC Doesn't Expect Serious Year 2000 Phone Disruptions

Los Angeles Times

Despite mounting concern among experts and lawmakers, the Federal Communications Commission will tell Congress today that it does not foresee a meltdown of the nation's phone system when the year 2000 arrives and computers may start scrambling dates.

FCC Chairman William E. Kennard said in an interview Monday that while his agency is not anticipating serious problems, he acknowledged that the FCC has only recently begun efforts to evaluate industry progress in dealing with the so-called millennium computer bug. "The telecom industry is ahead of the game relative to other industries we regulate," Kennard said. But he added, "It is vitally important is that we keep the pressure on and keep the industry ahead of the problem."

The issue relates to the six-digit formula used by many computers to express the month, day and year of an event. While the mm/dd/yy formula is simple and economical, the downside is that it leaves 1900 numerically indistinguishable from 2000. Such a glitch could be especially insidious for the telecommunications industry, where every telephone call or data connection creates a date and time record for the purpose of billing, routing and/or archiving.

So far, little is known about whether phone switching and billing equipment will malfunction because of software bugs. But with about 600 days left before the calendar turns to Jan. 1, 2000, the lack of information on the nation's telephone system have made government policy makers and business owners anxious.