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Thursday, July 7, 2011
Minister chokes on hard tack
Reconstruction minister Ryu Matsumoto resigned Tuesday — his ninth day as minister in charge of rebuilding of the Tohoku region hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis — over his remarks that offended many Tohoku people.
Clearly he failed to carefully consider how to behave. But his resignation also shows that Prime Minister Naoto Kan is not exercising proper control over Cabinet members.
Mr. Tatsuo Hirano, senior vice reconstruction minister, took over Mr. Matsumoto's job. But what transpired could delay the reconstruction work. More importantly, voters as well as lawmakers, including those within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, will regard the Kan administration as malfunctioning, thus creating further confusion in the political scene.
In meeting with Gov. Takuya Tasso of Iwate Prefecture in Morioka on Sunday, Mr. Matsumoto made a callous statement: "Since I am from Kyushu, I don't know which cities are in which Tohoku prefectures."
What angered the people of Tohoku was his high-handed manner of speaking to Gov. Tasso and Gov. Yoshihiro Murai of Miyagi Prefecture, whom he met with on Sunday in Sendai. His statements also gave the impression that he had little sympathy toward the hardship the people in Tohoku are experiencing.
For example, he told Gov. Tasso, "(The central government) will help those (municipalities) which rack their brains but will desert those which do not." In meeting with Gov. Murai, he said, "(As to the issue of integration of fishing ports,) get consensus within the prefecture. Otherwise we will not do anything."
He also became upset because he had to wait a few minutes for Gov. Murai to appear in the conference room. He angrily said, "When a guest comes, you must be present to greet him." He also threatened the press by saying, "This is off the record. If a (newspaper) company writes about this, its life will end."
The opposition will mount an attack on Mr. Kan over his appointment of Mr. Matsumoto as reconstruction minister. Thus the enactment of high-priority bills will be further delayed. Mr. Kan must realize that the time has come for him to announce the date of his resignation to save Japan from political paralysis.