The central government must look to local governments and their leaders when reviewing public works projects and avoid drastically reviewing or canceling them without such input, Infrastructure Minister Chikage Ogi said.

Chikage Ogi

“You just can’t ignore local assemblies and municipal heads,” Ogi said in an interview after her reappointment last week as land, infrastructure and transport minister.

Last year, the ruling coalition reviewed controversial public works projects, a process that involved 300 meetings by local project review committees, she pointed out.

The review led to the cancellation of 187 projects but still drew criticism because many of the canceled projects are minor and the public works budget remains unchanged.

But Ogi stressed the issue is not simple. “I just cannot cancel some projects (simply because) I authorized them,” she said.

Ongoing massive public investment has become the focus of political debate as the central and local governments suffer under the weight of outstanding long-term debts totaling 666 trillion yen — 128.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

In policy debates during the Liberal Democratic Party presidential election, candidate Junichiro Koizumi, who went on to win and become prime minister, called for “structural economic reforms,” indicating an austere fiscal policy may be considered.

But Ogi said Koizumi gave no specific instructions to her regarding public works when she was appointed.

He also did not call for a realignment of the construction sector, Ogi said, which many observers say is inevitable as financial institutions seek to swiftly dispose of their nonperforming loans — many of which were extended to construction firms.

“We just can’t say things like this company and that firm should merge” to survive, Ogi argued, because the government cannot interfere in the management of private companies.

But she added that the Land Ministry is ready to offer support should any talks regarding industry realignment surface.

Another pressing issue for the ministry is how to cope with the increasing traffic at Tokyo’s airports. The international flight hub, the one-runway Narita airport in Chiba Prefecture, is already stretched and transport demand is expected to exceed capacity at Tokyo’s Haneda airport by around 2015.

The ministry launched an expert council last year to study if another airport should be built in the Kanto region, sparking public debate on the future role of airports for the capital.

Ogi said she welcomes the election of Chiba Gov. Akiko Domoto, who appears more flexible than former Gov. Takeshi Numata, who had long insisted that Haneda be limited to domestic flights, while Narita airport continue to be the only international airport serving the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The internationalization of Haneda has been a taboo subject since Narita airport was built after decades of struggle with local farmers and leftwing extremists.

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