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Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011

Tohoku's needs trump new bureaucrat digs

Noda halts state housing complex

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered Finance Minister Jun Azumi on Monday to freeze a controversial plan to build a ¥10.5 billion apartment complex for civil servants in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, for five years as the government struggles to gather financial resources to rebuild disaster-hit Tohoku.

News photo
Project freeze: Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda fields questions from reporters Monday while visiting the site in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture, where a ¥10.5 billion apartment complex for civil servants is planned. KYODO PHTO

Noda's order came after he paid a morning visit to the construction site in Asaka, where local residents rallied against the project.

"After hearing the explanation (on the housing) and actually seeing the site, I made up my mind," Noda said after the visit, adding he is well aware of the public criticism.

The government is being criticized for building housing for civil servants at a time when temporary housing for those displaced by the disaster has yet to be completed.

The construction plan was suspended once in November 2009 under then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama when a budget-screening panel launched by the Democratic Party of Japan-led ruling bloc decided the housing was unnecessary.

But last December, the Finance Ministry, then headed by Noda, decided to resume the project, promising to slash overall construction of new housing for public servants at the same time. Construction restarted last month.

This drew fire from the opposition parties, among them the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which got the ball rolling on the housing complex before the DPJ finally ousted it from power after five decades of virtually unbroken postwar rule.

On Wednesday, LDP member Yasuhisa Shiozaki said to the Lower House Budget Committee: "Why the construction at this time? Among the Group of Seven industrialized nations, Japan is the only one providing housing to public servants and members of the legislature. The construction should be stopped right now and the funds used for reconstruction."

But Noda told Shiozaki he was not going to change the plan.

"The government has been reviewing overall housing facilities for civil servants," he said. "It was resumed based on that condition."

Noda flip-flopped Friday, apparently thinking it would be better not to upset the public and the opposition camp when the government is pushing to pass a third extra budget to finance Tohoku reconstruction and push for a tax hike.

"(The decision to resume construction came before) the Great East Japan Earthquake. We received various criticism based on the feelings of citizens and quake survivors. I will take this seriously," Noda said Friday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a press conference Monday the opposition camp's pressure may have prompted Noda to change his mind.

Information from Kyodo added

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