Osaka reorganization: for what?

The Lower House on Aug. 10 passed a bill that enables the establishment of new local governments similar to Tokyo Metropolis (Tokyo-to), which consists of the Tokyo metropolitan government and 23 special wards. The Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party and five other political groups supported the bill. The bill is expected to become law shortly because the Upper House will soon start deliberating it.

Under the bill, special wards can be established in areas that are composed of an ordinance-designated city (a population of at least 500,000 and given more power by a government ordinance than ordinary cities) and other municipalities, and have a total population of 2 million or more. Then such areas will become entities similar to Tokyo-to although they will not be called “to.”

In theory, areas in and around 10 ordinance-designated cities in eight prefectures meet the conditions set down by the bill. But only Osaka is ready to take advantage of the bill. Thus in reality, the bill is for reorganizing Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City, a pet plan of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto. It is not farfetched to say that the bill represents an effort by the seven political groups to please Mr. Hashimoto and gain his political cooperation. His local party, Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka Association for Reform), is expected to advance into national politics in the next Lower House election and to garner a large number of votes from citizens who have become dissatisfied with established major parties.

Under Mr. Hashimoto’s plan, Osaka City, population 2.7 million, and its 24 administrative wards will be abolished and transformed into eight or nine special wards, each having a population of 300,000 to 500,000. These special wards will be in charge of such administrative services as social welfare and education. The Osaka prefectural government will be responsible for such matters as large-scale development projects, and police and fire-fighting services.

Mr. Hashimoto claims that a major goal of his plan is to eliminate the current duplication of administrative work between Osaka City and Osaka Prefecture by weakening the power of Osaka City through its transformation into a number of special wards. But as duplication of administrative work can be prevented through better coordination between the Osaka city government and the Osaka prefectural government. a major reorganization will not be necessary to achieve this goal.

Mr. Hashimoto ostensibly supports devolution, but his plan actually increases centralization at the local level, as Mayor Tatsuo Yada of Kobe —who appears to harbor strong doubts about Mr. Hashimoto’s plan — has pointed out. The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party have criticized the bill as an attempt to let Osaka Prefecture confiscate the power and funds of Osaka City.

Osaka citizens must strictly watch every move of Mr. Hashimoto related to the reorganization plan and scrutinize whether such a sweeping change would actually bring them concrete benefits.