A key advisory panel on the privatization of expressway operators urged Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Tuesday to have his government present the panel with a draft of relevant legislation before consulting with ruling coalition leaders on the matter later this year.

It is the first time for the seven-member committee to submit a written recommendation to Koizumi since it compiled a proposal for privatizing the debt-ridden expressway operators in December.

The panel is calling on Koizumi to instruct land minister Nobuteru Ishihara to submit the ministry’s draft legislation for privatization of the expressway operators to the committee and ask for its opinions.

This must be done before the ministry submits the bills for deliberation at a joint conference of government and a ruling coalition officials scheduled before the end of the year.

Behind the committee’s latest move lies members’ deep-rooted distrust of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, which is allegedly trying to water down the panel’s proposal for a scheme that focuses on preventing the semigovernmental highway corporations from building unprofitable expressways after their privatization.

The ministry has thus far refused to comply with the committee’s request to show its draft bills to the panel, saying that they aren’t ready yet.

But the government has already tentatively registered the legislation with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau as a matter to be taken up in the next regular Diet session, which opens in January.

Under the planned legislation, Japan Highway Public Corp. and the three other expressway operators would be privatized in fiscal 2005.

“In order for the bills to be tentatively registered with the Legislation Bureau, they must be roughly ready,” committee member Naoki Inose told reporters after the panel’s regular meeting Tuesday.

“The Koizumi administration may end up being betrayed by the ministry” if the prime minister doesn’t give the committee the power to monitor whether the ministry is acting in accordance with the panel’s December proposals in drafting the bills, Inose said.

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