Banri Kaieda’s “reborn” industry ministry is looking quite similar to highly criticized one that was heavily armed to thwart the energy reforms pushed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
The industry minister on Aug. 4 decided on the replacements for three leading ministry officials who will be dismissed over the series of accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the manipulation of public opinion at state-sponsored symposiums on nuclear energy.
“The three successors are people who will not promote reforms nor override objections from the energy industry,” said a senior officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Kenyu Adachi, 59, director-general of the Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau, will replace Kazuo Matsunaga, 59, as the vice minister for administrative affairs.
Hiroyuki Fukano, 54, director-general for commerce and distribution policy, will succeed Nobuaki Terasaka, 58, as director-general of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).
Ichiro Takahara, 55, director-general of the Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, will become director-general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, replacing Tetsuhiro Hosono, 58.
Kaeida’s picks were not surprising.
The successors were promoted based on the seniority system and other customs in the ministry.
They are also from the mainstream faction in the ministry that has long promoted nuclear power generation.
After Kaieda’s announcement, Kan sighed. “If I express my desires, the number of desires will become endless,” he said.
The growing feud between Kan and Kaieda was in the background of Kaieda’s decision to dismiss the top bureaucrats.
Kan wants to underscore his “stance for reforms” to prolong his reign as prime minister. That would involve taking Japan’s energy policies out of the hands of the ministry and electric power companies.
Specifically, Kan’s Cabinet plans to review the regional monopolies held by electric power companies and separate the electricity distribution business from the electricity generation business.
Firing officials of the ministry’s mainstream faction and promoting reformists to help change the ministry’s energy policies would certainly help Kan’s cause.
But Kan, who is under pressure to keep his promise to resign, had no say on who should replace the fired officials.
Kaieda also wants to push reforms, or at least give the appearance of doing so, in his plans to run in the presidential election of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to replace Kan.
“I will implement a personnel reshuffle that will give the people the impression that METI has been reborn,” Kaieda told his aides on Aug. 3, when he decided to fire the three top bureaucrats.
However, sources in the ministry said a sense of relief is now spreading that the ministry’s policies on electric power generation will not change.
A senior ministry official explained that some behind-the-scenes maneuvers took place when Kaieda made his decision.
“Matsunaga accepted Kaieda’s dramatic performance to sack the top three officials at the same time. In exchange, he had Kaieda support his idea to choose successors (from the mainstream faction),” the official said. “Matsunaga worked out the strategy so that Kan would not take the initiative in choosing the successors.”
Matsunaga recommended Adachi, who had previously headed the division on electricity and gas businesses, which has deep ties to the energy industry, as his successor.
Adachi and Fukano, who has twice worked at NISA, will assume their new posts on Aug. 12. Takahara will be promoted on Sept. 1 after Diet deliberations on a special measures bill on renewable energy.
Kaieda has also expressed his intention to resign as economy minister. When asked when he would step down, he only said, “Let me decide on the date.”