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2009年1月14日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 13(IHT/Asahi: January 14,2009)

EDITORIAL: Reform of bureaucracy


Reform of the nation's calcifying bureaucratic structure remains stalled despite a consensus among many lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps that the system badly needs to be revamped.


Last year, the government abandoned its plan to set up a new Cabinet bureau in fiscal 2009 that would have allowed the prime minister's office to control all senior bureaucratic appointments. Currently, all such personnel moves are decided by the relevant ministries and agencies. The step has been postponed to April next year, the start of fiscal 2010. The government now says it will shortly decide on a blueprint and a timetable for the entire makeover of the bureaucratic system. This will include expanding the basic labor rights of national public servants.


Prior to the start of fiscal 2010, however, a Lower House election must be held as the current term for the chamber's members expires in September. The scope of this reform will change the nation's bureaucratic system fundamentally. Therefore, the job should not be rushed just to meet the deadline. We believe it would be better to leave the task to a new administration, which could then confront the challenge with its own ideas.


The creation of the new Cabinet personnel bureau, a step based on an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties, was stipulated in the law to reform the central bureaucracy that was enacted in June last year. The principal objective is integrated management of personnel decisions concerning senior bureaucrats under the chief Cabinet secretary, instead of independently by respective ministries and agencies.


The nation's central bureaucrats are working in a highly compartmentalized organization steeped in a culture that stresses turf consciousness. That is why they are often described as putting the interests of their ministries ahead of the national good. The bureaucracy cannot function for the benefit of the public unless this mind-set is changed. It was significant that the rival political camps agreed on this point even with a legislative gridlock due to the opposition's control of the Upper House.


Following enactment of the legislation, an advisory panel of experts published a report on the issue last November. It said the sections in charge of planning and management of the entire personnel system at the National Personnel Authority, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the Finance Ministry should be transferred to the new Cabinet personnel bureau. However, the negotiations with these ministries proved tougher than expected, forcing the government to abandon its plan to establish the new bureau in fiscal 2009.


The advisory panel didn't spend enough time discussing the key issue of how to give the new bureau the effective authority to make personnel decisions concerning senior bureaucrats at all ministries and agencies. Due partly to the leadership change that handed the reins of power to Prime Minister Taro Aso, the start of the panel's discussions was delayed. The panel had only a month to put together its recommendations.


Some ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who campaigned for the legislation warned about acting rashly to set up the new bureau, while some members of the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) who were involved in the talks over revisions to the bill were irked at being left out of the process of drafting the plan.


Late last year, the government set up a new center within the Cabinet Office to help retiring bureaucrats find new private-sector jobs--a step adopted by the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as an answer to the problems linked to the traditional practice of amakudari. But there was a problem. The center was established while the appointments of the members of the committee in charge of approving the employment of retiring officials were blocked by the opposition parties. It is still unclear whether former bureaucrats on private payrolls should be allowed to hop from one job to another, a practice known as watari that was originally designated for a ban.


All the parties should present their own plans for overhauling the bureaucracy, including measures on the amakudari issue, as part of their campaign platforms. Then, the new administration should push through the reform with support from both the ruling and opposition camps.



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