Ex-farm bureaucrat takes helm at ministry

by Hiroko Nakata

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appointed a 48-year-old agriculture policy expert in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a former farm ministry bureaucrat as the new farm minister to replace Toshikatsu Matsuoka, who committed suicide Monday.

Abe gave Norihiko Akagi the post Friday, four days after Matsuoka, 62, killed himself at his residence in Tokyo’s Akasaka district. Matsuoka had been grilled for months by the media and the opposition about the opaque management of his political funds.

Abe and the LDP are still reeling from the news two weeks ago that the Social Insurance Agency has been unable to verify the data on about 50 million pension payments. Abe’s support rating, a key gauge of how the public will vote in the House of Councilors election in July, plunged to new lows last weekend.

“I will do my best to further strengthen Japan’s agricultural industry and promote reforms on agricultural administration, as we are in a crucial stage right now,” Akagi told reporters Friday morning at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Akagi was first elected to the Lower House in 1990 after having served in the agriculture ministry for seven years. He has been head of an LDP committee on farm policy.

Akagi’s expertise in the agricultural industry was a top reason he was picked for the job, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said.

Akagi is the grandson of Munenori Akagi, who was agriculture and forestry minister six times since 1957, including under then Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather.