Mr. Okada’s pseudo-reform

Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada has directed government ministries to reduce the number of recruits for fiscal 2013 by an average of about 70 percent from fiscal 2009′s level. This is a typical example of the pseudo-reform that the Democratic Party of Japan government often uses to dupe the public. The government is apparently trying to use the recruitment cut as a sort of quid pro quo for people to accept the planned consumption tax hike.

Mr. Okada’s directive could lead to the bashing of public servants and lower the quality of administrative services. Instead of adopting an “easy” policy like slashing the number of recruits, the government should tackle the more difficult job of breaking the bureaucracy’s vested interests and eliminating waste and unnecessary work in the central bureaucracy. For example, the work of independent administrative agencies should be placed under strict scrutiny.

The 3/11 disasters highlighted the importance of public servants’ work in times of emergency, however, Mr. Okada seems to have learned nothing from this experience. The number of public servants in Japan relative to its population is low. According to 2004-2005 data cited by a report, for every 1,000 people, Japan had 4.0 central government workers, compared with 4.4 in Germany, 7.5 in the United States, 32.9 in Britain and 37.1 in France.

The government employed 8,511 recruits in fiscal 2009 and 8,842 in fiscal 2010. After the DPJ came to power, it employed 5,333 recruits in fiscal 2011 (37 percent less than in fiscal 2009), but will increase the number to 6,336 (26 percent less) in fiscal 2012 due to the 3/11 disasters. Mr. Okada’s directive means that the government will hire only about 2,500 recruits in fiscal 2013. He ruled out exceptions even for Self-Defense Force members, prison guards, and Japan Coast Guard workers and officers.

Mr. Okada appears to lack the ability to anticipate the negative impact his directive will have on public servants and the central bureacracy itself. His directive will lower the morale of central government workers, distort their age structure and discourage students who planned to work for the central government.

In the long run, the quality of the central bureaucracy will decrease. The number of national public servants must be decided on the basis of informed discussions on the types, quantity and quality of services that people need and the government must provide.