A majority of the people polled by Kyodo News support privatization of the nation’s four public road entities but oppose a total freeze on construction of highways that would not be commercially viable.

The poll found that 61.8 percent of the 1,018 respondents support privatization of the four entities proposed by a government advisory panel to help prevent the government from using taxpayers’ money to repay some 40 trillion yen in long-term debts that they owe.

Only 32.1 percent of the respondents oppose the proposal put forward in an interim report presented to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Aug. 30 by the advisory panel charged with mapping out ways to privatize the four entities.

The four entities are Japan Highway Public Corp., Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp., Hanshin Expressway Public Corp. and the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority.

The respondents are among 1,592 voters nationwide selected at random and interviewed by telephone on Thursday and Friday.

The interim report calls for a freeze on construction of some highway projects to minimize the financial burden on taxpayers and urges the government to change the four entities into privatized entities — one to take over the assets and debts of the four and the others to manage toll roads leased from it.

But the poll found that 68.8 percent of the respondents oppose the proposed freeze on construction of possibly loss-making highways, with 13.6 percent calling for construction to go ahead funded by the privatized road-related entities with toll revenues, and 39.8 percent calling for the construction to be carried out by the privatized entities working with the central and local governments.

According to the poll, 15.4 percent want the central and local governments to build highways while 22.8 percent support the proposed freeze on construction.

Of those expressing opposition to the interim report, 39.2 percent cited a lack of clear benefits to road users from the proposals in the report, while 32.2 percent said the interim report did not pay due attention to local needs, reflecting strong opposition among local municipalities to the proposed freeze on the construction of highways.

The seven-member panel is scheduled to draft a final report by the end of the year.

The final report will serve as a basis for the government to draw up bills during fiscal 2003 for setting up the proposed special firms by fiscal 2005.

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