Reconstruction Agency to remain intact with full-time minister

The government and ruling coalition parties have begun making final arrangements toward keeping intact the present Reconstruction Agency organization, headed by the prime minister and served by a full-time minister, beyond the end of fiscal 2020 when the current agency-establishing temporary law is due to expire. The move is in response to requests from municipalities damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Senior government officials and party members involved in the talks have judged it necessary to continue the current system of promoting policy measures under the prime minister's direct control in order to ensure medium- to long-term reconstruction from the disaster. At a meeting of the government's Reconstruction Promotion Committee held at the agency in Tokyo on July 3, representatives from the three disaster-affected prefectures of Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi sought the maintenance of the present administrative system, among other requests, looking beyond the current legally mandated reconstruction and revitalization period ending next fiscal year. Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori urged reconstruction minister Hiromichi Watanabe and other officials, for the first time, to create a full-time minister post for a Reconstruction Agency successor organization. He also called on the government to secure stable reconstruction funding under a system similar to the existing framework. Speaking to reporters after the closed-door committee meeting, Uchibori said, "Fukushima's reconstruction will not end in 10 years. It is extremely important for the state (national government) to take the lead in securing a system and financial resources that enable prefectural people to make efforts for reconstruction with peace of mind." In its basic policy for the reconstruction of affected areas revised last March, the government made clear that it will assume responsibility for Fukushima's rehabilitation in the medium to long term and that it will appoint a minister in charge of the agency's successor organization. Ideas broached in government and ruling coalition debate so far include one calling for the successor body to be an affiliate of the Cabinet Office and another for the establishment of a "reconstruction and disaster management agency" overseeing both functions -- that would be able to respond to disasters and rehabilitation -- in a single-handed manner. After the reconstruction and revitalization period, however, challenging issues remain such as restoration of affected people’s daily lives, establishment of a living environment enabling the evacuees to return home permanently, mental healthcare of victims and measures to cope with reputational damage caused by the nuclear accident. Against that backdrop, municipalities and other parties concerned have been calling for maintenance of control tower functions for overall policy coordination among relevant ministries and agencies and the retention of reconstruction funding instead of the agency's simple reorganization. Based on such requests, the Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito are expected to submit an eighth set of recommendations in favor of keeping intact the current system and funding as soon as August. In response to the recommendations, the government will include them, by the end of this year, in its basic reconstruction policy to be implemented after the current reconstruction and revitalization period. The Reconstruction Agency was set up on Feb. 10, 2012, as a body under the direct control of the Cabinet on the basis of the Act for Establishment of the Reconstruction Agency. It will run until March 31, 2021. With the prime minister serving as its chief minister and a full-time reconstruction minister in charge of administrative affairs also being appointed, the agency is undertaking reconstruction and rehabilitation projects related to the earthquake and nuclear accident. (Translated by Kyodo News)