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2008年12月11日 (木)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 10(IHT/Asahi: December 11,2008)

EDITORIAL: Administrative reform


The decentralization reform committee headed by Itochu Corp. Chairman Uichiro Niwa has been working on ways to revamp the centralized system of decision-making. In a second set of proposals it submitted to Prime Minister Taro Aso on Monday, the panel recommended shifting many powers to local governments to give them a greater say in issues affecting the lives of residents in their areas.


Its proposals are essentially two-fold: The first is to reduce requirements and standards that bind local governments by uniform nationwide regulations for facilities built by municipalities as well as the proviso that the central government gives its consent for each decision. The panel has identified more than 10,000 standards for such action, of which it recommends discontinuing or easing about half of them.


The second key point concerns the consolidation of the central government's regional offices. The panel advises revising the work and authority of 15 agencies under eight ministries that deploy local offices around the country, and halting or transferring to local governments just under 40 percent of the operations currently in the hands of the central government.

Under this recommendation, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Tourism's regional development bureaus and five other agencies would be integrated into two new organizations.


This shift would entail reassigning 10,000 of the 96,000 public servants currently employed at the 15 agencies to municipalities. Over the years to come, this approach would be used to either transfer or eliminate a total of 35,000 government jobs.


We understand the aim of rooting out waste due to duplicated administrative activities. However, this is a clear retreat from the panel's initial vision of scrapping all such regional offices.


There is also the risk that regional operations would not be slimmed down, with reforms instead producing massive integrated agencies. Addressing such fears so late in the day, the panel inserted ambitious numerical cutback targets. It has not, however, outlined specific measures for slashing actual workloads. This also came as a total surprise to central government bureaucrats, who quickly expressed fierce opposition to the proposal.

Drafting a plan acceptable to the bureaucracy will bring about no drastic change. Then again, it would also be difficult to push ahead if groundbreaking reforms were dismissed with a perfunctory thumbs-down. This is the dilemma plaguing the panel.


Committee chairman Niwa may have opted to set high numerical targets to encourage their implementation by Aso, who is on record as saying: "I make the final decision." But given the woes currently facing the Aso government, such a scenario seems unlikely.


The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has largely steered the nation's postwar political scene based on a relationship of give-and-take with bureaucrats. But can an LDP-led administration really wield the scalpel of reform to deeply entrenched officialdom? Considering the fate of decentralization efforts to date, we have serious doubts.


The main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) is also eager to promote local autonomy. Under its reform draft, Minshuto says it would abolish the subsidies that are the sources of the central government's power, overhauling that system into lump-sum grants for use at the discretion of each local government. Regional offices would be eliminated in principle. Although there are parts of the Minshuto plan that we question, there is a sense that if it takes power the party would embark on a bold program of reform in the current power structure.


Certainly, it would amount to reform on a major scale that is bent on dislodging massive ingrained power and personnel. This could not be accomplished overnight. We urge voters to listen closely to debates on the details of proposed changes, and decide for themselves what caliber of government is needed to carry out such a tall order.



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