Prefectures launch regional alliance

Kansai group wants power from central government

Kyodo

An alliance of seven prefectures in western Japan, the first of its kind, was launched Wednesday to strengthen administrative partnerships.

The Kansai regional alliance, undertaken with the approval of internal affairs minister Yoshihiro Katayama, also aims to become an institution that can take over authority and funds now within the province of the state.

To this point little progress has been made in efforts to decentralize power, due in part to the lack of readiness at the local government level.

The grouping of Shiga, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Wakayama, Tottori and Tokushima prefectures sets an important precedent because other regions, such as Kanto and Kyushu, are considering creating similar alliances.

A committee governing the alliance, consisting of the prefectures’ governors, will hold its first meeting Saturday in the city of Osaka, where it is expected to elect Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido to head the group.

A charter stipulates the prefectures will partner up in seven fields, including antidisaster measures, tourism and cultural promotion, business promotion, medical services and environmental preservation.

The alliance plans eventually to handle more affairs.

Nara Prefecture has opted not to join the alliance, with Gov. Shogo Arai saying in October that the grouping is unnecessary and goes against decentralization if it is to assume some of the powers currently wielded individually by the prefectural governments.

Among large cities in the region, Osaka, Sakai and Kobe are willing to join the alliance in the future, but Kyoto is not.

The Democratic Party of Japan and the administration have pushed reforms aimed at greater regional autonomy, encouraging local leaders to create the kind of institutions this objective requires.

But the bureaucratic apparatus of the central government, which has long wielded authority over local governments, has proven a potent obstacle to advancing the reforms.