Reconstruction Agency under reform a year on

JIJI

Plagued by administrative disorganization, the Reconstruction Agency is revamping itself to accelerate recovery from the March 2011 disasters, ahead of the first anniversary of its launch Sunday.

Designed to oversee the rebuilding of areas devastated by the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, the agency was expected to guide related government agencies. In reality, however, progress has been slow in housing reconstruction and decontamination of radiation-polluted areas.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made postdisaster reconstruction a priority, along with economic revival, plans to improve coordination within the agency to better effect policies.

“The agency will be revamped drastically with the vertically divided administration eliminated,” Abe said.

As part of its organizational reform, the agency set up on Friday a head office in the city of Fukushima to supervise restoration efforts in areas affected by the triple-meltdown calamity at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

In the system envisioned by Abe, the agency in Tokyo and the Fukushima head office will serve as two major headquarters for reconstruction projects.

The Fukushima head office will “implement reconstruction measures promptly, with a hands-on approach,” according to postdisaster reconstruction minister Takumi Nemoto.

The new head office unifies the agency’s bureau for reconstruction in Fukushima Prefecture, the Environment Ministry’s office for Fukushima’s environmental regeneration and the government’s nuclear disaster response headquarters in the prefecture.

The reform is expected to promote on-the-spot decision-making on decontamination work and the return of evacuees.

The Reconstruction Agency is tasked with taking requests from disaster-hit local governments, mostly in the Tohoku region, including Fukushima Prefecture, distributing subsidies for them to use freely, and certifying special reconstruction zones for preferential tax treatment and deregulation measures to attract companies.

In the early stage of its launch last year, some municipalities criticized the agency’s overall attitude toward reconstruction. Futoshi Toba, mayor of the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, said he “expected the agency to take the standpoint of disaster-hit areas to the extent that they will fight against other ministries. But, in fact, its officials have instead tried to persuade us to give up our requests.”

But in the course of a year, things seem to have slowly changed for the better. “The agency has come to aim for common goals with us,” Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama said.

Regional governments say the agency needs to revise the distribution of subsidies. Many criticize the agency’s glacial pace. An official of the town of Hirono in Fukushima Prefecture noted the timing of the distribution is out of sync with the town’s budget-forming schedule, causing inefficiencies.

The Abe government decided to boost the budget for reconstruction through fiscal 2015 by ¥6 trillion to ¥25 trillion.

Still, the disaster-hit areas face shortages of civil engineers, architects and city planners. Contractors undertaking reconstruction work are also understaffed.