The governors of the nation’s 47 prefectures, including Tokyo, held their national convention July 8-9 in Matsuyama and expressed their dissatisfaction with the Abe administration’s economic policy and devolution efforts.
For their convention, they used the catchphrases “Without the resuscitation of local communities, no resuscitation of Japan” and “Without the stabilization of local communities, no stabilization of Japan.” These phrases summarize problems Japan is now facing and must tackle in earnest if it is to build a nation where people can lead decent lives with hope for a brighter future.
The Abe administration should pay serious attention to the ideas behind the phrases and the concrete problems they refer to, and try to work out measures to resolve them.
Many governors complained that the Abe administration’s economic policy has not benefited rural areas. If only urban areas prosper under the Abe administration’s economic policy, the economic gap between them and the countryside will expand and the latter will continue to lose population.
Many governors expressed a fear that the central government may reduce its grants to local governments before the resuscitation of local economies get off the ground. Their fear is reasonable. The administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi slashed grants to local governments by ¥5 trillion over three years from fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2006.
The nation’s governors adopted three resolutions and made it clear that they will not cooperate with the Abe administration in its economic policy unless it heeds them. One resolution called for the transfer of more administrative power from the central government to local governments.
Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada pointed out that while prefectural governments have reduced their workforces by 19 percent in the past 10 years, the central government has cut only by 3 percent during that period. He called it devolution in reverse.
Another resolution called for more investment by the central government in local governments’ projects to develop human resources needed for the development of local economies. Another resolution called for securing local government funds for general purposes and establishing a forum attended by leading officials of the central and local governments to work out a strategy to revitalize local economies.
If Mr. Abe continues to enjoy a high approval rate, it’s possible that he will ignore the governors’ requests, prompting a serious confrontation between them and the central government.
The Abe administration should utilize a forum set up by the Democratic Party of Japan government for policy consultations between the heads of the central and local governments. Decisions made in this forum have a legally binding power. The administration should set up subcommittees under this forum to discuss such matters as local government budgets, taxes and social security measures.
Top-down decisions vis-a-vis local governments will only deepen conflict between the central and local governments. The administration should turn the forum into a venue of productive discussions between the central and local governments.