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2008年5月10日 (土)



EDITORIAL: Stubborn bureaucrats


It is really distressing to see how bureaucrats are stonewalling the various policy efforts to decentralize the government.


The committee to promote decentralization, set up last year in the Cabinet Office, is working hard to publish its first set of recommendations shortly, hopefully by the end of this month. As part of its efforts to put together proposals, the panel is holding open debates with senior officials of the ministries and agencies involved. At the same time, Hiroya Masuda, the minister of internal affairs and communications, who is also responsible for decentralization, is holding talks with other ministers over various ideas to distribute more administrative powers and functions to local governments.


The proposals that have been floated by the committee include the following: allowing prefectural governments to manage some national highways and class-A rivers and grant permission to convert farmland to other uses; transferring the right of personnel management over public school teachers and clerical workers from the prefectural to municipal governments; and relaxing the unified standards for welfare facilities and allowing local governments to set their own standards.


The ministries and agencies, however, are doing their best to block most of these proposals, flatly rejecting some and sidetracking others.


Last month, alarmed by the situation, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda chided bureaucrats for their uncooperative attitude. "The responses of ministries and agencies have been insufficient. I hope ministers will make their decisions on how to deal with this challenge as politicians," he said. The disturbing bureaucratic stonewalling has prodded Masuda into early negotiations with the other ministers concerned over the committee proposals before they are made public.


The committee is trying to overhaul the administrative structure to allow local governments to pursue plans for more balanced regional development and make welfare and education programs better tailored to regional realities. That's not all. Another important aim of the reform is to bring the policymaking process closer to people to make it easier to check policy decisions and eliminate bureaucratic overlapping, which wastes taxpayers' money.



With tax revenue expected to keep dwindling amid the aging and shrinking of the population, the need to promote such changes is vital. Yet, bureaucrats are standing in the way of the reforms, brandishing flimsy claims that sound quite familiar. Officials opposing the proposal to transfer the power to permit the conversion of farmland to prefectures say it is necessary for the central government to secure sufficient farmland from the viewpoint of stable food supply for the entire nation. The bureaucratic argument against regionalized standards for welfare facilities is that it is necessary to ensure certain standards for the treatment of users and their quality of life.



These claims are anything but convincing. The bureaucrats, it seems, are only fighting to protect their own powers, even at the expense of national interests. It is the job of political leaders to make hidebound members of the officialdom accept necessary changes. This blatant sabotage of crucial reforms by bureaucrats, who are apparently betting that the current government doesn't have the necessary political muscle, must not be allowed.



Without being daunted by the formidable resistance from the bureaucracy, the committee should make bold proposals and press Fukuda to carry them out. To make sure that the panel's recommendations will be implemented without dilution, Masuda needs to win support for the ideas from the

ministers in advance.


While he was serving as governor of Iwate Prefecture, Masuda, previously a bureaucrat at the former Construction Ministry, earned a reputation as a champion of administrative reform by transferring certain powers to municipal governments. It is because of his track record as a reformist governor that Masuda was recruited as the minister in charge of decentralization.


It is not clear how long Fukuda will be able to remain in office. And the fact that Masuda is not a Diet member may work against his efforts. Still, we hope that he will be able to capitalize on his impressive administrative record as a prefectural governor to persuade ministers, who tend to speak for the parochial interests of their ministries, to support the reforms this nation badly needs.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 9(IHT/Asahi: May 10,2008)

朝日新聞 5月9日号 (英語版 2008年5月10日発行)


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