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Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto made remarks July 23 that could invite skepticism of his administrative reform efforts.

During a meeting of the Administrative Reform Council, a blue-ribbon panel he heads, Hashimoto said he hopes to maintain the current number of ministers even if the number of ministries is halved as a result of ongoing administrative reform.

In response to a question from Tsuneo Watanabe, head of the Yomiuri Shimbun and one of 15 members of the panel, Hashimoto said he hopes the numbers of ministers and ministries will be considered separately. Hashimoto has called administrative reform his first priority and has pledged to halve the current 22 ministries to make the government smaller and more efficient.

Concerning ministry bureaus, Hashimoto did not suggest reduction but instead said that 128 bureaus, the current number, should be considered the maximum. Many political observers would consider it natural for the number of ministers and bureaus to decrease in a slimmed-down government.

The panel has held weekly meetings since November on streamlining the government, and a draft is expected by the end of August after intensive discussions. Finalization would come by November.

Hashimoto also said during the meeting that the controversial system of “government advisory bodies” should be terminated when the government is reorganized. Ministries decide policy by generating advisory panels of scholars and individuals from the private sector, who then make recommendations to the respective ministers.

However, such panels often just follow the courses mapped out by bureaucrats, which has drawn public criticism that bureaucrats merely do what they want to do while pretending that their “new” policies have been recommended by leading scholars and others concerned.

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