A key government panel tasked with discussing the privatization of tollways decided Tuesday to ask Japan Highway Public Corp. to compile a rough cost-reduction simulation based on a downgraded version of the planned road network.

The panel members believe, for example, that costs can be reduced by cutting the number of lanes of some planned expressways.

The results of the simulation will be used by the panel to put together a proposal recommending which sections of the planned roads should be canceled in order to save the debt-ridden expressway firm, panel members said.

The panel members said they will hire an independent research company to investigate hundreds of so-called family companies that are believed to have close ties with Japan Public Highway Corp.

The companies apparently hire retired officials of semigovernmental highway companies and push up construction costs through opaque transactions.

At Tuesday’s meeting, key panel member and writer Naoki Inose revealed that 530 retired officials from Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp. had landed jobs at 307 construction-related companies as of fiscal 2001, while 277 ex-officials of Hanshin Express Public Corp. had been hired at 146 firms.

This practice, known as “amakudari,” or descent from heaven, has long been criticized for creating murky ties between semigovernmental bodies and companies.

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