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Any Okinawa-related matters following the downsizing of the Okinawa Development Agency should be handled by a specially appointed minister, members of a blue-ribbon reform panel said Oct. 15.The Administrative Reform Council, headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, agreed with his proposal for a special minister as long as problems stemming from the U.S. military presence exist in the island prefecture. However, the special minister would also take charge of territorial issues between Japan and Russia over the disputed islands off Hokkaido, they agreed.To downsize the government, the Okinawa and Hokkaido development agencies should be scaled down to bureaus, they said.During the meeting, it was also confirmed that the Environment Agency should be expanded to a full-scale ministry with stronger authority to deal with the global increase in environmental awareness. The purpose of the confirmation is to turn down a Liberal Democratic Party demand for creating a new ministry by combining the agency with the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry.The LDP made the demand to protest a proposal the council made last month to take the river-control functions away from the Construction Ministry and give them to the agriculture ministry. The LDP is believed to be opposed because the party, which is backed by the construction industry, thinks separation will endanger their vested interests in the lucrative annual public works projects.In other decisions, the reform council gave up on its original plan to leave all environment-related responsibilities with the new environment ministry. Instead, the panel agreed ministry should only be in charge of policies related to the natural and global environmental issues, and anti-pollution measures.Government tasks related to environmental issues are currently scattered among the agency and the Agriculture, Health and Welfare, International Trade and Industry, Construction, and Education ministries, as well as other government bodies. For instance, tasks related to waste and recycling are taken care of by as many as six ministries and two agencies. The council members are also thinking about giving the new environment ministry power to interfere with the way other ministries administer environment-related matters. At present, the Environment Agency has a less powerful voice compared with most ministries.

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