In another apparent effort to win support for the ruling coalition before Sunday’s election, the government said Tuesday it will appoint a private-sector executive as head of the Social Insurance Agency.

Kiyoshi Murase, currently vice president and senior managing executive officer at Sompo Japan Insurance Inc., will be appointed in mid-July as director general of the agency.

It is the first time a private-sector corporate executive has been tapped for the position, which so far has been monopolized by health ministry bureaucrats.

Appointing people from the private sector is a favorite tactic of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s to demonstrate his commitment to reforming inefficient government and government-linked bodies.

In addition to Murase, “dozens” of employees from private-sector companies will be appointed to work at the agency to support the new chief, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.

Hosoda also said the government will set up by the end of this month an advisory panel consisting of experts and key ministers to discuss social security issues.

The government appears to be making these announcements with an eye on Sunday’s House of Councilors election, in which Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party is forecast to fare relatively poorly.

In announcing the creation of the panel, Hosoda admitted the government still needs to select “one or two more” members.

The government’s handling of social security matters, in particular the contentious pension reform issue, has drawn heavy flak from voters, which observers say could deal a heavy blow to the Koizumi administration in the election.

The Social Insurance Agency has also been criticized over the large numbers of people failing to pay into the mandatory public pension program, as well as its inefficient management of premiums.

The members of the advisory panel to Hosoda will include Hiromitsu Ishi, head of the government tax panel, Kiyoshi Sasamori, president of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), and Taizo Nishimuro, vice chairman of Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren).

The panel will be tasked with discussing a comprehensive framework for reform of the pension, nursing-care and medical insurance programs, including possible integration of public pension systems, Hosoda said.

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