The government and the Democratic Party of Japan on Dec. 23 decided to resume work to construct the Yanba Dam in Gunma Prefecture and to include a necessary fund in the fiscal 2012 budget after a two-year freeze. By this decision, the DPJ has broken one of the main promises in its manifesto for the August 2009 Lower House election.

The manifesto had picked the ¥460 billion Yanba Dam project as a symbol of a wasteful public-works project and the party had used the slogan “from concrete to humans” to express the idea of switching the flow of public money from large-scale public works projects pushed by vested interests to measures to directly improve people’s quality of life.

People in the area where the dam is located and local government officials in areas supposed to receive benefits from the dam construction in the form of flood control and securing of water resources will welcome the decision this time. But the decision will cost the DPJ a lot. Voters who supported the party thinking that the manifesto contained a needed change will regard the DPJ as a party that does not care about ideals.

The DPJ government committed a strategic mistake of leaving an evaluation of the Yanba project to the land and infrastructure ministry’s Kanto Regional Development Bureau and the prefectural governments of Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaraki, Gunma and Tochigi. The bureau on Nov. 30 reported to the ministry that resumption of the dam construction is desirable and the government decided to go ahead.

This development demonstrates that the DPJ lacks ability to launch a theoretical struggle powerful enough to roll back an offensive from the bureaucracy or to maneuver bureaucracy.

All told, it must be noted that outside opinions were ignored in the evaluation work. Although the decision was made, the government should objectively study ways to control floods without relying on dams, which cause environmental disruption.

DPJ policy chief Seiji Maehara, who served as land and infrastructure minister in the Hatoyama administration, bears great responsibility for the Yanba fiasco. He helped to stiffen the opposition of local governments and residents to the policy to halt the Yanba project by declaring Sept. 17, 2009, the day after the administration’s inauguration, that the government would halt the project without doing any groundwork to get their understanding.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.