The Reconstruction Agency has spent the past five years overseeing the rebuilding of areas in the northeastern Tohoku region that were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami disaster in 2011.

It has passed the halfway point in the time frame for its mission as the organization is set to be disbanded by March 2021.

In areas engulfed by the tsunami, significant progress has been made toward achieving infrastructure-related goals, such as the building of public housing and roads.

But efforts to rebuild local communities and industries have met with less success.

In areas around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, reconstruction work is only now shifting into high gear as evacuations orders are being lifted one by one.

In seeking to fulfill its mission, the agency has so far placed priority on acting as a close partner of the affected areas and paying sympathetic attention to the voices of local governments and residents there.

The challenge facing the agency now is whether it can move from that role and focus more on identifying and solving problems in areas that are hindering progress. The challenge will test the body’s ability to play the leadership role in the reconstruction efforts.

The agency has stood out by devoting much energy into tasks that were not regarded as part of the government’s domain prior to the disaster.

It has, for instance, promoted exchanges among people living in temporary housing and referred individuals wishing to be involved in the reconstruction of battered communities to local governments and other relevant organizations.

Since this is a field not familiar to the government, the agency has been cooperating actively with nonprofit organizations and businesses which have the necessary expertise.

But the agency has failed to demonstrate to accurately assess the reality of disaster-hit areas and adjust its policy to the situation on the ground.

In one typical case of mismatched policy, a huge tide embankment was built near an area where a housing reconstruction project had made little headway.

A program to provide state subsidies to support the rebuilding of plants and commercial facilities has been criticized by local communities for its inappropriate conditions with regard to employment and occupation. Critics say the conditions are out of tune with reality and make the program hard to use.

Most of the projects for rebuilding demolished areas and communities are overseen by other ministries and agencies. The Reconstruction Agency’s role has been to act as coordinator in various projects.

But many of the agency’s employees were simply transferred from other ministries and agencies. It is hard not to suspect that their decisions and actions may be affected by their loyalty or the interests of the organizations from which they came.

The Reconstruction Agency is regarded as having higher status than many other arms of the government. It has the power to issue recommendations to other ministries and agencies. But it has never used this power.

The head of the Reconstruction Agency is replaced almost annually, making it difficult for the body to enhance its presence.

The focus of the reconstruction work will shift to areas in Fukushima Prefecture around the stricken nuclear power plant.

Until now, the tasks related to compensation for victims of the nuclear calamity and decontamination of affected areas have been carried out by other ministries and agencies.

But the Reconstruction Agency should take the leadership role in efforts to regenerate local communities in these areas.

The 2011 disaster has sharply accelerated the aging and depopulation of affected local communities. But these problems are common to many areas around the nation.

The Reconstruction Agency’s experiences can be very useful for future projects to revitalize local communities across Japan.

The agency needs to work in tandem with NPOs and businesses in carrying out its public duties.

We hope the body will expand the scope of this approach and set a model for government efforts to build a better future for the nation.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 11