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Japan’s 22 ministries and agencies will be reorganized into either 13 or 15 by January 2001, with a new Economic Ministry to be created by a merger of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and the monetary policy division of the Finance Ministry, according to a draft plan being discussed by a blue-ribbon panel.

Under the plan, prepared by the Administrative Reform Council led by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, the broadcast and information/communication divisions of the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry will be combined with the Transport Ministry to become the Transport and Communications Ministry. The draft still does not touch on the question of whether or not the three postal services provided by the ministry — postal, postal savings and insurance — should be privatized.

The panel plans to compile a preliminary report by Sept. 3, and Hashimoto hopes to submit relevant bills to pass the reform into law to next year’s regular Diet session. However, panel members still disagree over a number of issues on the agenda, and it is not clear whether they will be able to reach a consensus after the upcoming debate.

According to the draft, the Environment Agency will be upgraded into the Environment Safety Ministry, while the Health and Welfare Ministry and the Labor Ministry will be combined into a body to be called Life and Welfare Ministry. The food control division of the Agriculture Ministry will be merged with the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, currently part of MITI, to become the Food and Energy Ministry. Further, the Prime Minister’s Office will be combined with the Management and Coordination Agency into one body. A new ministry, to be in charge of social infrastructure development, will replace the Construction Ministry and the National Land Agency.

The draft suggests that the Science and Technology Agency should be upgraded into a ministry, but it says the Defense Agency should retain its current status to avoid giving the impression that Japan is stepping up its military capability. The Economic Planning Agency and the Hokkaido and Okinawa Development Agencies will be scrapped under the draft. The foreign, justice, education and home affairs ministries will basically remain as they are, according to the plan.

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