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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Controversial public meetings restart on austere note


Staff writer

After facing a wave of criticism last year for wasting taxpayers' money in an attempt to manipulate public opinion on controversial issues, the government held another town hall meeting Monday that it said was cheaper and impartial.

The first town hall meeting since Sept. 2 was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Small Business Center in Akihabara. The small-scale trial attracted about 36 participants, who asked administrative reform minister Yoshimi Watanabe questions about "administrative reform." Although 66 people were registered to attend, many did not show up in the steady drizzle.

The meeting cost 1 million yen to hold, the government said, in contrast with last year's meetings that cost about 12 million yen apiece. Some of the premium-priced meetings used special effects, adding music and smoke produced from dry ice to jazz up huge halls that held 300 to 400 people who got few chances to ask critical questions.

Most of the questions posed by the audience concentrated on the government's much-criticized personnel system.

"I want to introduce an evaluation system based on ability for public servants in 2009, if possible," Watanabe said in reply to a question about why ministries and agencies hang on to a seniority-based system at a time when the private sector is making personnel adjustments based on employee performance.

The public meetings, aimed at explaining government policies and collecting feedback, were introduced in 2001 by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to advertise his commitment to "open government."



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The Japan Times

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