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Mayor suggests officials living in Fukushima town get promotion priority

NARAHA, Fukushima -- The mayor here, where a Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuation order was lifted in September 2015, suggested he would prioritize promoting municipal government officials who have settled back in the town, it has been learned.

    Naraha Mayor Yukiei Matsumoto admitted during a March 6 town assembly meeting that he made the comment "on an official occasion" so it would reach the municipal government staff. He indicated that he would continue to encourage the staff to return home, saying, "While I understand their concerns, we have grave responsibility as an administrative organ."

    Since the evacuation order for the Fukushima Prefecture town was lifted in September 2015, only 11.1 percent of residents, or a total of 818 people, have moved back. Many of the residents have not returned due to infrastructure concerns or because they have put down roots in the areas they evacuated to.

    When an earthquake registering a lower-5 on Japan's 7-point seismic intensity scale struck off Fukushima Prefecture one early morning in November 2016, only 13 out of about 100 municipal government officials working at the town hall actually lived in Naraha. Mayor Matsumoto rushed to the municipal government office following the quake to find nobody there.

    Since the following December, 10 town officials have been taking turns staying in the town each night. As of the end of February, the number of town officials living in Naraha increased to 35.

    A Naraha government official who commutes from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, said of the mayor's comment, "It's our job to create an environment where people can return, and I understand the mayor's position. But I also have to protect my family."

    The prefectural labor union headquarters stated, "Evaluating officials based not on job performance but on their home addresses goes against the principle of equal treatment under the Local Public Service Act. Many officials have already left their jobs at municipal governments hit by the 2011 disaster, and we worry that forcing officials to return home would strip away their motivation."

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