The government formally decided Tuesday to launch the Cabinet Bureau of Personnel Affairs on Friday and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato will serve as its director general, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
The creation of the new bureau and the appointment of Kato, one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s the closest aides, is seen as another political maneuver by Abe to tighten his grip on powerful government bureaucrats.
The bureau will serve as the secretariat for the prime minister to decide the appointments of about 600 elite bureaucrats at ministries and agencies of the central government, including vice ministers and bureau chiefs.
Under the current system, the prime minister and chief Cabinet secretary have overseen appointments of about 200 elite bureaucrats. The new personnel bureau will greatly expand the clout of politicians in power.
“We’d like to establish a system to cope with various issues quickly and in a united manner” through “strategic appointments of personnel,” Suga told a news conference.
Suga announced that Tomomi Inada, now minister in charge of administrative reforms, will also oversee the bureau.
But Abe and Suga himself will be directly in charge of screening and appointing those senior bureaucrats, while Inada will oversee other aspects of the bureau’s work, Suga said.
Since Abe’s inauguration in December 2012, the prime minister and Suga have interfered in the appointments of a number of key elite officials to strengthen their power base, while past Cabinets have largely avoided doing that to maintain political neutrality over the autonomy of the powerful bureaucratic system.
For example, last August Abe tapped Ichiro Komatsu, a former Foreign Ministry official, as director general of the Cabinet Legislation Bureau, to push for his drive to reinterpret the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense.
Under the long-held government custom, a senior official of the bureau has been promoted to the director general’s post, but Abe broke this tacit arrangement to push for his ambition to change the interpretation of the Constitution.
Then, last fall, Abe appointed four right-leaning people whose political interests are close to his to the 12-member board of governors of NHK, the country’s influential public broadcasting organization.
The four then helped appoint Katsuto Momii as NHK’s new chairman, who later caused a big stir by saying he will not challenge government policies as far as territorial issues are concerned and by defending Japan’s wartime “comfort women” brothel system.
Suga, a former internal affairs minister and Abe’s right-hand man, is known for his keen interest in controlling bureaucrats by meddling in personnel affairs.
In June last year, Suga forced Atsuo Saka, a former top Finance Ministry official, to step down as president and CEO of Japan Post Holdings Co. Suga’s move was seen as his drive to strengthen his control over the giant government-owned Japan Post conglomerate.