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Sunday, July 8, 2001
Nara residents get to quiz ministers
Questions cover broad range of topics in Koizumi's latest 'town hall' talks
KASHIHARA, Nara Pref. -- Nearly 300 residents of Nara Prefecture gathered in this small city Saturday for a town hall meeting with members of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's administration, discussing issues ranging from the disposal of bad loans held by banks to the building of better roads.
Defense Agency Director General Gen Nakatani and Heizo Takenaka, minister for economic and fiscal policy, took part in the two-hour discussion, one of dozens Koizumi has vowed to hold nationwide so his Cabinet can hear public opinion on a wide range of matters.
The two ministers were accompanied by Iwao Matsuda, senior vice minister for economy, trade and industry, and Shinya Izumi, senior vice minister for land, infrastructure and transport.
Shortly before the start of the meeting, those present were questioned on the issues they thought are most important. The matters of top concern were cleaning up problems in the banking sector and reducing the number of special public corporations.
"The banking mess will take time to clean up, but the Koizumi administration has shown it is serious about tackling the issue by creating my position to provide the political leadership necessary to make basic policy changes so positive results can eventually be achieved," Takenaka told the audience.
Of more immediate concern to many of those present was a local issue: Nara, especially the southern part of the prefecture, has one of the least developed transportation infrastructures in the Kansai region and several of those in the audience called for more roads to be constructed.
"We want to expand our tourist industry, but it is difficult if we don't have an adequate highway system," local resident Tadashi Maru said.
Many participants also criticized the nation's special public corporations, which have been rapped for wasting taxpayers' money and serving as havens for retired bureaucrats.
Matsuda agreed there are too many public corporations, while Yoshiko Asahiro, a Kashihara resident, said she believed this problem could best be solved by strengthening information disclosure laws.
Several opponents of the bilateral security treaty with the United States were also in the audience and called on Nakatani to reject pressure from the U.S. for Japan to engage in collective defense.
"Collective defense agreements are common among most nations. When your friend is in trouble, you have a duty to extend him assistance, because you have a duty to protect yourself as well," the defense chief responded.