The government plans to emphasize social infrastructure investment as part of a comprehensive plan to support mergers of cities, towns and villages, according to a draft plan obtained by Kyodo News.

The draft plan consists of around 60 separate schemes aimed at boosting cooperation between government ministries and agencies in the business of strengthening merged local governments.

These include projects focused on the living environment, information technology and education.

As well as emphasizing the advantages of following the central government’s proposals, the draft plan pays particular attention to the removal of barriers that may hinder mergers.

The central government is seeking to reorganize cities, towns and villages quickly in an effort to strengthen the administrative and financial bases of local authorities, government sources said.

A final decision on the draft plan will be made at a meeting on local government mergers Thursday.

The plan will then likely be reflected in the budget for fiscal 2002, which starts April 1.

The plan is targeted at cities, towns and villages designated by prefectural governments as support areas for mergers. It is also targeted at those cities, towns and villages that merge before March 2005 under the provisions of the Special Mergers Law.

According to the draft, roads, tunnels and bridges linking several cities, towns and villages will be given construction or improvement priority.

The draft plan sets out guidelines aimed at improving the productivity of agricultural areas by constructing or improving roads and other facilities.

The construction of parks to commemorate mergers will also be subsidized.

The rebuilding and renovation of public housing, along with the construction of waste disposal sites, will also be prioritized, the draft shows.

In terms of information technology, the laying of fiber-optic cables in depopulated areas may similarly win support, it says.

The draft states that, although mergers are likely to lead to a reduction in the number of schoolteachers and other staff members due to school closures, teaching jobs will not initially be threatened. The cost of purchasing school buses for children who must travel long distances will also be subsidized under the draft plan.

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