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Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012

11 months on, Reconstruction Agency makes official debut


Staff writer

The Reconstruction Agency finally made its official debut Friday, 11 months since the devastating Great East Japan Earthquake, and its mission is to speed up the process of rebuilding the Tohoku region.

Tatsuo Hirano has been appointed as the minister of the agency, which is headquartered in Tokyo but has three bureaus and six branches in the disaster area — Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures — to quickly address the needs of people in the disaster zone.

"I want to take the lead to speed up the process of reconstruction and restoration," Hirano, a native of Iwate, said Friday morning.

The agency, which has Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda as the ultimate head to strengthen its leadership, will coordinate with other ministries and implement policies related to reconstruction, approving "special reconstruction zones" with tax exemptions and allocating subsidies to local governments.

"I feel the heavy weight of responsibility that I need to meet the expectations of the people in the disaster area," Noda said after putting up the agency's signboard.

Local officials have complained about the traditional "vertically structured administration" in which various ministries were overseeing different components of reconstruction policy.

During a news conference Friday evening, Noda expressed his determination to execute strong leadership to overcome the ministries' high barriers.

"Whether the Reconstruction Agency truly proves to be useful to the disaster area depends on being able to meet the region's demands . . . and to overcome the vertical barriers of the ministries," Noda said. "I am the head of the agency and I intend to firmly execute leadership."

With a staff of about 250, the agency will act as the control tower for the reconstruction effort. Its mandate will run at least until March 2021, which will mark 10 years since the disaster. A committee made up of leaders of local governments and experts to be headed by Makoto Iokibe, president of the National Defense Academy of Japan, has also been set up to monitor quality control for reconstruction measures.

Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said he's hopeful the new body will help speed up the reconstruction process but expressed dissatisfaction over how long it took to be established.

"As a disaster victim, I think that it could have been launched sooner," Sato reportedly said Friday.

The Democratic Party of Japan-led government acted quickly — at first, at least.

Yukio Edano, chief Cabinet secretary at the time, suggested the need for a new "system or organization" just 10 days after the killer quake and tsunami.

But the effort turned political from that point forward as opposition parties and the ruling coalition continued to squabble in the divided Diet as the public — including the disaster victims — could only look on.

The DPJ also found itself caught up in infighting that led to Naoto Kan stepping down as prime minister in August.

In the end, the law to establish the Reconstruction Agency didn't make it through the Diet until December.



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