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2009年8月29日 (土)

社説:NOVA判決 消費者被害に歯止めを

(Mainichi Japan) August 28, 2009
Nova ruling puts spotlight on Japan's consumer affairs
社説:NOVA判決 消費者被害に歯止めを

Nozomu Sahashi, the former president of collapsed English language school operator Nova, was recently handed a three-year six month prison sentence in a ruling at the Osaka District Court.
 経営破綻(はたん)した英会話学校最大手「NOVA」の元社長、猿橋望被告に大阪地裁は懲役3年6月の実刑判決を言い渡した。

Sahashi was convicted of embezzlement in the conduct of business, by misappropriating money from an employees' fund to cover payments for cancelled contracts. Nova had collected some 56 billion yen in advance from around 300,000 students, in one of the biggest cases of consumer damage in Japan's postwar history.
 約30万人の受講生から約560億円の前払い受講料を集めた戦後最大級の消費者被害をめぐり、社員積立金を解約料の支払いに流用した業務上横領罪に問われた。

The former president has no assets, and even if bankruptcy proceeding are undertaken, there appears to be no prospect of students having their lesson fees returned. The fact that relief from the damage cannot be obtained by pursuing the criminal responsibility of the company's operator is a consumer problem -- and a governmental lapse.
元社長に資産はなく、破産手続きでも受講料の返還は見込めないという。経営者の刑事責任の追及だけでは被害の救済につながらないのが消費者問題だ。

If Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which has jurisdiction over the industry, had taken a more serious view of the problem of canceled contracts and had quickly issued an administrative order against Nova, it is possible the damage could have been reduced. However, the ministry, the government body responsible for nurturing industry, was not greatly concerned with the damage caused to consumers and left the problem unaddressed.
 業界を指導する立場の経済産業省が解約トラブルを重く見て早急に行政指導していれば、これだけの被害を生まなかったのではないか。産業育成官庁ゆえに消費者保護の観点が薄く、問題を放置してきたことが被害を拡大させたといえよう。

The imminent formation of a consumer agency is based on reflection on this kind of problem. The agency is designed to be a kind of consumer administration control tower, intended to aggregate information on consumer problems like fraudulent sales methods and accidents involving common products -- such as the carbon monoxide poisonings caused by water heaters produced by Paloma -- and solve these issues.
 消費者庁の発足もそうした反省を踏まえている。詐欺的商法のほか、パロマ工業製湯沸かし器による一酸化炭素中毒事故など日常使う製品による事故、食品偽装といった消費者問題の情報を一元化し、被害を食い止めるための消費者行政の司令塔と位置づけられている。

The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan had received complaints from students about Nova's handling of cancelled contracts, such as its lowering of the amount of lesson fees returned, for more than a decade. In 2002, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government issued an administrative order to the company, but the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry sided with Nova's claim that cancellation of contracts was made at the convenience of consumers. This effectively gave Nova an official stamp of approval and the company expanded its business while receiving lesson fees in advance without taking profit into consideration.
 NOVAに関して言えば、受講生が途中解約を求めても返還額を抑えるなどした返金方法への苦情は10年以上前から国民生活センターに寄せられていた。02年には東京都が行政指導したが、経産省は「解約は消費者の都合」とするNOVAの主張を容認した。官庁がお墨付きを与えた格好となり、同社は採算を度外視して事業を広げていった。

Later, the company was hit with a succession of lawsuits from students who demanded the return of their lesson fees. In April 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that provisions demanding heavy compensation for terminated contracts are invalid.
 その後の受講料の返還訴訟で受講生勝訴の地裁判決が続き、最高裁は07年4月、「中途解約時に高額な対価を求める規定は無効」と判断した。

Just before the ruling, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had finally carried out a spot inspection at Nova on suspicion that the company was violating the Specified Commercial Transaction Law. In June 2007, the ministry judged that Nova had violated 18 provisions of the law, which pertain to procedures for cancelled contracts, and issued a business suspension order against the company. The move was an echo of the judicial decision.
その直前に経産省はようやく特別商取引法違反の疑いで立ち入り検査に入った。さらに、解約手続きに関する18項目の違反を認定し業務停止命令を出したのは、受講生勝訴の最高裁判決が確定した後の07年6月で、司法判断を追認した形だった。

The government's consumer promotion administration council, which had been considering the series of incidents involving the company, had made recommendations regarding establishment of a system to quickly transmit information on damage and a mechanism enabling administrative authorities to respond swiftly. It is envisioned that Japan's new consumer agency will have the authority to quickly conduct spot inspections at businesses and issue warnings and other administrative instructions, while bringing together information that had previously been held by various related government ministries and agencies.
 一連の事件を検討した国の消費者行政推進会議でも、被害情報の早期発信のシステムづくり、行政の早急な対応を可能にする仕組みづくりなどの指摘があった。消費者庁は、事業者への速やかな立ち入り検査や勧告など行政指導できる権限を持ち、関係省庁で縦割り的に保有された事故情報は一本化される予定だ。

The Liberal Democratic Party's House of Representatives election manifesto promises that the party will radically strengthen regional consumer administration, while the opposition Democratic Party of Japan promises to improve working conditions for regional consumer affairs consultants. Due to economic difficulties, the budget for consultation counters at consumer affairs centers is decreasing, along with the number of staff. Reinforcement of consultation counters is indispensable for the task of comprehensively releasing information and responding quickly to the issue, and the new government administration must quickly implement support measures.
 衆院選のマニフェストを見ると、自民党が地方消費者行政の抜本的強化、民主党は地方消費生活相談員の待遇改善を約束している。市民に最も身近な消費生活センターの相談窓口は財政難で予算も人も減っている。情報の徹底公開と素早い対応に窓口の充実は不可欠で、新政権はその支援策を急がねばならない。

毎日新聞 2009年8月27日 東京朝刊

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