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Reconstruction Agency ‘needs more budget power’

JIJI

The Reconstruction Agency should play a bigger role in the budget compilation process to speed up efforts to rebuild the areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, former Iwate Gov. Hiroya Masuda says.

The central government was slow to create the organization, Masuda said in an interview ahead of the first anniversary of the agency on Sunday. The agency also was not given sufficient power, he said.

Procedures for relocating communities hit by the tsunami to upland areas “are taking too much time and are exhausting the people involved,” said Masuda, who served as internal affairs minister for about a year starting in August 2007.

“I can see hardly any influence of the Reconstruction Agency” in the fiscal 2013 draft budget, he said.

The budget was drawn up recently by the Liberal Democratic Party-led government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He blamed the agency’s lack of leadership for the much-publicized problems of reconstruction funds being used for projects that aren’t directly related to rebuilding affected areas.

“The agency would have more carefully examined projects outside the disaster-affected regions” if it had been given a bigger role in budget requests, Masuda said.

On the Reconstruction Agency’s recent reorganization, Masuda said that Fukushima, one of the three hardest-hit Tohoku prefectures, needs a different approach than the efforts in Iwate and Miyagi.

The agency has set up a special unit for the revival of Fukushima Prefecture, which also has to overcome the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

It remains to be seen how much power the special unit in the prefecture will exercise in terms of decision making, Masuda said, adding that he appreciates the Reconstruction Agency’s policy of stationing senior officials at the Fukushima unit on a permanent basis.

Assessing the progress of reconstruction ahead of the second anniversary of the March 11 disasters, Masuda said administrative work has moved forward to some extent but not enough to pave the way for vigorous rebuilding efforts.

Local governments are struggling to secure land for building new public facilities, he said.

Masuda said he wants the Abe administration to provide sufficient funds to the agency and leave decisions on how to use the money entirely to the organization.