Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday appointed former transport minister Sumio Mabuchi, replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle in January after he was targeted with an Upper House censure motion, as his adviser on the nuclear crisis and disaster relief operations.

The move came after former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, who was also named in a nonbinding censure motion and was replaced in the January reshuffle, was appointed deputy chief Cabinet secretary March 17 to spearhead a task force supporting victims of the March 11 disaster.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano brushed aside criticism of both appointments.

“To tackle the disaster and the nuclear incident, appointing the most suitable person and strengthening our ability to cope with the incidents take priority above everything else,” Edano said.

Mabuchi will focus on the nuclear crisis for now, but Edano said he hopes Mabuchi’s experience as transport minister will eventually be utilized in relief operations.

Mabuchi replaced Manabu Terada, a Democratic Party of Japan member. Kan can appoint up to five advisers.

Reform plan faces delay

Kyodo News

The administration for the time being will postpone plenary sessions of its tax and social security reform panel because the Tohoku disaster has become the priority.

The panel, chaired by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, is scheduled to compile a draft reform plan around June on swelling social security costs amid deteriorating public finances.

The panel, which was holding weekly plenary sessions before the quake and tsunami, will instead hold smaller meetings to gather opinions from experts.

Economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano is charged with crafting the plan, and although he has said he intends to meet the administration’s self-imposed deadline, this is widely thought unlikely following the March 11 disaster that killed thousands, crippled manufacturing and unleashed the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

At a news conference Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano admitted the administration may be forced to delay certain critical decisions on the reform plan, as well as a decision due around June on whether to join talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a U.S.-backed regional free-trade agreement.

The “political decisions” regarding the reform plan and TPP must be considered in light of the damage in Tohoku and ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Edano said.

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