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2009年6月18日 (木)

平成の大合併―現実を見据え次に進もう

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 17(IHT/Asahi: June 18,2009)
EDITORIAL: Municipal merger plan
平成の大合併―現実を見据え次に進もう

The Grand Municipal Consolidation of the Heisei Era, a government-led program that began in 1999 to promote mergers of cities, towns and villages, is nearing its end.
 「平成の大合併」と呼ばれた市町村の合併推進運動が、ひと区切りを迎えることになった。

In March 1999, there were 3,232 cities, towns and villages in Japan. By March 2010, the number will have been nearly halved to 1,760.
 99年3月から来年3月までに、日本の市町村の数は3232から1760へと半分近くに減る。

Back in 1888, the nation had more than 70,000 cities, towns and villages. But the number has since been reduced to one-fortieth through extensive consolidations during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the Showa Era (1926-1989) and now the Heisei Era.
歴史を振り返れば、1888(明治21)年に町村は7万以上もあった。それが明治、昭和、平成の大合併を経て、約40分の1に再編されることになる。

It seems practically every conceivable pattern of municipal merger or consolidation has been tried out over the past decade. Now, the government's strategy of encouraging mergers with tax breaks and other fiscal benefits seems to have reached its limit.
In view of this situation, the Local Government System Research Council, an advisory panel, recommended to Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday that the Grand Municipal Consolidation of the Heisei Era be discontinued at the end of March next year.
 10年余りの運動をへて、とりあえず考えられる市町村合併の組み合わせはおおむね試された観がある。税財政の優遇措置という「アメ」をぶら下げて進めた政府主導のやり方も、そろそろ限界だ。こんな情勢を受け、首相の諮問機関の地方制度調査会がきのう、来年3月末でひとまず幕を下ろすべきだと麻生首相に答申した。

When the government began promoting this program in 1999, the reason given was that smaller municipalities, which were experiencing serious depopulation and aging, would not be able to survive without fiscal rationalization through mergers.
 過疎や高齢化が進む中、合併による合理化で財政を立て直さなければ、小さな自治体は立ちゆかなくなる。政府が市町村に合併を促したのは、こんな理由からだ。

The Local Government System Research Council acknowledged that the mergers did help these municipalities and assisted decentralization by enlarging local governments and enabling them to exercise greater independence. As a result, they were able to employ their own healthcare and welfare experts.
 調査会の答申は、行政の規模が大きくなったり、保健や福祉など専門職員が置けるようになったりして、分権の受け皿としての体制が整備されつつあると、合併の効果を認めた。

But the mergers also created problems. Some municipalities undertook urban renewal projects with specially approved loans granted at the time of merger, only to end up with heavier debt. And for residents who were used to friendly neighborhood village or town offices where everyone knew each other, the merger meant they had to travel far to an impersonal, big-city office.
 弊害もある。合併時の特例で認められた借金で新しい街づくりを進めた結果、財政は借金返済の重荷を抱えてしまった。身近で面倒見のよかった役場が、遠くてよそよそしい市役所に変わってしまった。

This sort of discontent surfaced in the April "mini unified local elections," when voters in 17 cities--all products of mergers--voted out their incumbent mayors.
A senior offical at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications admitted, "Overall, people who don't think the mergers were a good thing slightly outnumber those who do."
 この4月の「ミニ統一地方選」で、現職市長が落選した17市はいずれも合併市だったのは、そうした住民の不満の表れだろう。総務省幹部は「全体としては、合併はよくなかったという声の方が若干多い」と認める。

Given this, it makes sense to stop and take a good, hard look at the situation.
 こんな現実を考えれば、ここで立ち止まって冷静に検証してみようというのは妥当な判断だ。

Instead, the nation's major political parties are determined to make "local government reorganization" a central issue in the next Lower House election. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is considering introducing the so-called doshusei system to reorganize the nation's cities, towns and villages into 700 to 1,000 kiso jichitai, or "basic municipalities" with populations ranging from 100,000 to 300,000.
 ただ、間近に迫った総選挙で、主要政党は「自治体再編」を主張の柱に据えようとしている。自民党は、道州制を導入し、市町村を人口10万から30万規模の700~1千の基礎自治体に再編することを検討している。

Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) came up with a plan, when Ichiro Ozawa was president, to consolidate cities, towns and villages into 700 to 800 entities, and eventually reorganize them into about 300 kiso jichitai basic municipalities. With Ozawa now gone, this plan will likely be reconsidered, but the party envisions further extensive mergers all the same.
 民主党は小沢前代表の時代に、市町村を700~800程度に集約し、将来的には300程度の基礎自治体にする案をまとめた。代表交代でこの案は再検討されそうだが、いずれにせよ、さらなる大合併が想定されている。

For any political party trying to sell a reformist image, it certainly helps to bring up the doshusei system and bold reorganization of local governments. We welcome policy debates aimed at ending the current concentration of power in the central government and furthering decentralization.
 道州制や自治体の大胆な再編は、改革イメージをアピールするには格好のテーマだ。中央集権を打ち破り、分権社会に造りかえる政策論争は歓迎だ。

But if the parties are considering excessive mergers just for the sake of competing on their commitment to reform, that would defeat the purpose of reform itself. We do not want any reorganization that is an end in itself and fails to put the people's welfare first. We expect the parties to engage in policy debates that will tell us exactly how they intend to reorganize the nation in a manner that meets the public's real needs.
 しかし、派手な改革を競うあまりに、より極端な合併を想定するとすれば本末転倒だ。数字ありきの再編論でなく、住民が主役となれる自治体の姿をどう具体化するか。合併に伴う現実を踏まえた政策論議をしてほしい。

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