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2009年11月19日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 18(IHT/Asahi: November 19,2009)
EDITORIAL: Decentralization council.

The government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has decided to establish the Local Sovereignty Strategy Council. Hatoyama had promised full-fledged decentralization of administrative powers to local governments if his Democratic Party of Japan took control of the government. The new council will reportedly coordinate this push.

Hatoyama will chair the body, which will include the ministers of national policy, government revitalization, finance and internal affairs and communications, the chief Cabinet secretary, local government heads and private-sector experts. In all, about 12 members will map out pertinent policies and systems.

Under the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the government used proposals from experts in the Decentralization Reform Committee to render final decisions. Special interest politicians and bureaucrats regularly meddled in this process, causing most recommendations to be diluted or thrown out altogether.

This latest plan seeks to avoid such a fiasco. Politicians and experts will debate the issues and reach decisions together. The conventional advisory council approach to policymaking, with decisions reached through consultations, recommendations and selection, will be junked in favor of fast-track implementation via political decisions issued under the prime minister's hand.

This new departure is encouraging.


Yet, the approach so far has been painfully slow. This also holds true for the DPJ campaign promise to furnish an arena for discussions between outlying regions and the central government. The first such meeting was just recently convened, and the system has yet to be passed into law.

The all-important question is what decentralization measures will be adopted for the coming year. Unfortunately, very little has been forthcoming on that front.

It appears that the standards for establishing day-care centers, roads and other obligations that the central government has forced on the municipalities will be revised. But the policy now is to defer any immediate action on transferring authority and tax revenue sources and abolishing regional offices of the national government.

Lump-sum grants, another DPJ campaign pledge meant to pool subsidies for use by regions as seen fit, will not come onstream until the fiscal 2011 budget.

This sluggish pace threatens to deflate the high hopes of voters and local governments.

What will be implemented and by when? Will provisions be made for the needed revenue sources, transfer of authority and other key components? To dispel such doubts, a timetable and grand plan for reforming regional autonomy should be drafted immediately.

For example, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, the minister of internal affairs and communications, touts an increase in local government tax grants by more than 1 trillion yen. However, if regional tax revenues decline with the elimination of the provisional tax rates on gasoline and other items, what will be left in the coffers?

Under that scenario, would it even be feasible for the regions to take over authority, personnel from central government outposts and assume other duties? 

This blurry vision needs to be corrected at once.

The public is also anxious. Although the idea of decentralization has a nice ring to it, doubts remain about the ability to truly relegate such responsibilities to regional authorities. If local assemblies and others fail to speak out on how to best change the approach to autonomy, these worries will never be eased.

If the Local Sovereignty Strategy Council plans to devote more time to plotting an approach to this challenge, the Hatoyama administration needs to tender an in-depth blueprint toward that end. Lasting regional autonomy reform requires a structure empowering residents to fully savor the autonomy they wield over their own lives.


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