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The Administrative Reform Council agreed Aug. 19 to upgrade the Environment Agency to a full-scale ministry to respond to higher priority being placed on environmental protection by the international community.

The blue-ribbon government panel, headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, also agreed to reorganize the ministries of Construction, Transport, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the National Land Agency and the Hokkaido Development Agency into two ministries that would be called the ministry of national land preservation and the ministry of national land development. The idea was initiated by Hashimoto.

The 13-member panel reached the agreement during the second day of four-day talks that started Aug. 18.

The 13 members, together with Hashimoto and Kabun Muto, director general of the Management and Coordination Agency and minister in charge of administrative reform, are involved in intensive debate as they hammer out a blueprint to downsize the current bloated administrative system of 22 ministries and agencies.

Under the latest agreement, the new environment ministry would have the additional tasks of promoting recycling and dealing with waste disposal, which are currently under the jurisdiction of the Health and Welfare Ministry.

All panel members but one agreed that the ministries of Labor and Health and Welfare would be merged into one. Jinnosuke Ashida, chairman of the Japan Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), strongly opposed the idea, saying that the Labor Ministry should exist as it is because the responsibility of the ministry has increased to protect about 60 million workers across the nation and to promote sexual equality in the job market.

Policy tasks related to telecommunications currently taken care of by the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry would be transferred to a new ministry of industry, they agreed.

The controversial three postal services — postal, postal savings and insurance services — will be discussed Aug. 20 or later, said Kiyoshi Mizuno, secretary general of the council and a special aide to Hashimoto on administrative reform.

The panel members decided to leave the matter of whether to scale up the Defense Agency to a full-scale ministry to politicians after they found that they were clearly divided over the issue.

The panel members also agreed to merge the Education Ministry and the Science and Technology Agency, partly departing from their discussions the previous day. Although Hashimoto mentioned during the Aug. 18 session that the science agency might be unnecessary after its involvement in a series of blunders, he said Aug. 19 that a ministry should exist to deal with policies related to science and technology.

At the same time, the Council for Science and Technology currently under the prime minister should be considerably scaled up to map out general policies related to the field, they agreed. Humanities specialists should also be involved in the council, they said.

The panel members did not reach a consensus on whether fiscal and monetary policy, currently handled by the Finance Ministry, should be separated. Some maintained that one ministry should be responsible for fiscal, financial system and currency-related matters, but others said that separation is necessary to reform the much-criticized Finance Ministry, which is often said to have too much power.

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