Three and a half months after the Great East Japan Earthquake, Prime Minister Naoto Kan on June 27 finally chose a minister for the job of post-disaster reconstruction. He appointed Ryu Matsumoto, minister for disaster management, to lead the efforts to rebuild areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Kan also named Goshi Hosono, his special adviser, for another new Cabinet post of minister responsible for dealing with the nuclear accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
We wish we could say these belated personnel moves have put together a solid government team for reconstruction. But there are so many factors that will undermine the effectiveness of these appointments.
The choice of Matsumoto, who has been involved in the efforts to support disaster victims, as reconstruction minister can be described as a move to ensure continuity of the work.
But the public has delivered a harsh verdict on the way the Kan administration has been responding to this disaster.
The administration has been criticized for its failure to harness the abilities and resources of ministries for coping with the national crisis and the lack of speed in policy development and execution. Matsumoto has been part of the poor-performing Cabinet.
The Cabinet must work as a fully united team in responding to such a disaster, according to Sadatoshi Ozato, a lawmaker of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party. Ozato served as minister in charge of dealing with the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.
In his book, Ozato, who was appointed to the post three days after the quake flattened Kobe, cited "support and cooperation from all the ministers" as the reason for his solid performance.
We hope Matsumoto will spearhead the reconstruction efforts in disaster-hit areas by actively leading the ministries concerned to ensure quick and effective actions.
What Kan needs to do now to ensure Matsumoto does his job well is to give him all the powers needed and establish a system for full government support for his work.
It is also necessary to set up an organ for bipartisan talks on related issues.
But some of Kan's personnel decisions have highlighted the reality that he has little chance of providing the political leadership needed for effective reconstruction efforts.
Kan, who has indicated his intention to resign, probably wanted to use these appointments to regain his leadership momentum. But he made two seriously misguided moves that will work against his interests.
One was his failed attempt to make Shizuka Kamei, chief of the People's New Party, the ruling coalition partner of Kan's Democratic Party of Japan, deputy prime minister. The other was the recruitment of Kazuyuki Hamada, an LDP member of the Upper House, as parliamentary secretary for internal affairs and communications, a key sub-Cabinet post for the reconstruction work.
Kan reportedly made these decisions almost totally on his own without little advance consultation with his party lieutenants.
For the embattled prime minister, who is under growing pressure from the leadership of his own party to step down by the end of August, Kamei, who has supported Kan's bid to stay in office, is probably the last remaining political ally he can turn to.
Kan acted on Kamei's advice when he recruited the LDP member of the Upper House, which is under opposition control, for the parliamentary secretary post.
But these gambits have strained his relations with top DPJ executives and angered the largest opposition party, whose cooperation is necessary to push through his policy initiatives.
In a June 27 news conference, Kan clarified, for the first time, what he meant when he said he would step down when a "certain degree of progress" has been made in the reconstruction efforts. He cited the enactment of three measures--a second supplementary budget, a bill to allow the government to issue deficit-financing bonds and legislation to promote the use of renewable energy--as the conditions for his departure.
It is, however, clear that Kan's own personnel moves have made partisan cooperation even more difficult and dimmed the prospects for these bills.
Kan couldn't have taken such wrong-headed actions if he were seriously concerned for the well-being of disaster victims.
It is difficult to have any hope that Kan, who is sinking further into political isolation in his last days in office, will be able to lead the nation in tackling the colossal challenge of rebuilding cities and towns destroyed by the calamity.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 28