The Diet deliberations on the third supplementary budget for fiscal 2011 to finance reconstruction from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear crisis and related bills are proceeding rather smoothly. But the ruling and opposition forces have a schism over a bill to establish a Reconstruction Agency.

Under the bill, the agency will plan the reconstruction efforts, coordinate government agencies and ministries concerned and related budgets, select and certify “reconstruction special zones” in the 222 municipalities in 11 prefectures, mainly in the Tohoku region, hit by the disasters and distribute government grants. The government hopes to establish the agency by March 11, 2012. But it will be abolished by March 31, 2021. While the prime minister will head the agency, a Cabinet minister in charge of it will be appointed. The minister will be empowered to advise other Cabinet ministers over the reconstruction efforts and to ask the prime minister to give instructions to them.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito complain about the fact that the agency will not have power to implement concrete reconstruction measures. They say that the agency will not able to break bureaucrats’ vested interests, thus letting bureaucrats take the initiative in the reconstruction efforts.

The concrete measures they have in mind are projects in which the government agencies and ministries are directly involved, such as construction of highways, expressways and ports. But if the new agency is empowered to carry out these projects, turf wars may develop between it and other government organizations. Attention should be paid to the fact that municipalities will play the central role in reconstructing schools, hospitals, city water facilities, sewerage facilities, etc. — not government agencies or ministries. The ruling and opposition forces need to make wise compromise.

The government should support municipalities in the disaster-hit areas suffering from shortages of personnel and know-how. The new agency should carefully listen to requests from such municipalities and prefectural governments and have other government organizations immediately respond to them. When necessary, the prime minister must intervene and coordinate different organizations to smooth the reconstruction efforts. The government should consider placing the agency and its branches in the Tohoku region.

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