Ministry to reassess work environment

Kyodo News

Finance Minister Naoto Kan said Tuesday he will set up a special project team as early as this month in an attempt to change the way officials work at the ministry.

Kan said the team, to be formed mainly by relatively young officials, will report on proposals to cut long hours of overtime and improve the current personnel system by April.

“I am looking forward to receiving proposals aimed at breaking with convention,” he said at a news conference.

Kan said he considered establishing the team after visiting Britain last year to learn about how government officials there do their jobs.

“I’ve heard that Britain’s Treasury officials normally leave their offices on time. But the quality of work is not inferior to the Japanese ministry,” he said. “I wonder why things possible in Britain are not possible in Japan.”

Although Kan has acknowledged that Japanese officials are often forced to stay late at night to prepare for Diet deliberations, not because of their shortcomings but because of demands by lawmakers, he said the working environment must be improved. For example, they must “be allowed to have a date on weekdays.”

He also said the personnel system at the ministry should more be merit-based, underscoring the need to invite applications for senior posts from both its own officials and people now working in the private sector, like in Britain.

Kan said the bureaucracy could be transformed for the better by changing the way officials in the powerful Finance Ministry work.