Staff Writer

Although a blue-ribbon government panel on administrative reform released a preliminary report Sept. 3 on streamlining the bureaucracy, the panel still faces a lot of hard work before finalizing the report by November.

The Administrative Reform Council, headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, is expected to face difficulties in working out a feasible, detailed plan to streamline the bloated government due to possible opposition from those with vested interests, such as bureaucrats and politicians, experts said. “It seems it will be hard for the panel to reject pressure from such forces,” said Atsushi Miyawaki, a professor of economics at Hokkaido University. “I think this is partly because the panel has failed to clearly state the principle on which the detailed streamlining plan is to be drafted.”

Although about 10 months have passed since the council was set up last November, it has so far only suggested that some existing ministries and agencies be merged with others without reviewing their current tasks, Miyawaki said. “The most essential parts of how to actually downsize the government have all been left untouched,” he said.

Echoing Miyawaki’s view, Yasunori Sone, a professor of politics at Keio University, said, “First, they should have determined what tasks the new government should shoulder, and then they should have decided which ministries would be necessary to deal with the tasks.” The interim report says that the current government, with 22 ministries and agencies, should be revamped into a Cabinet Office and 12 ministries and agencies. The report states that this would make a slimmer, more efficient and transparent administration system for the 21st century.

Sawako Takeuchi, chief researcher at the LTCB Research Institute, pointed out that halving the number of ministries does not mean that the cost efficiency of the new administration will improve. “We need a watchdog body outside the government to review the results and cost performance of government projects,” she said.

Under the interim report, administrative inspections will be conducted by a new general affairs ministry. “I don’t think that administrative inspections by those inside the government will be conducted in an appropriate, objective manner,” Takeuchi said.

Both Sone and Miyawaki criticized the panel’s report for its failure to state when the postal saving service operated by the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry should be privatized. One of the main concerns of administrative reform has been three postal services — postal savings, life insurance and mail delivery.

The panel recommended in the report that life insurance services be privatized around 2001 and that postal saving services be maintained as a governmental entity for a while as privatization preparations are carried out. The panel also advised that the state continue operating mail delivery services.

Miyawaki said it would be nonsense if the postal savings system is not targeted for privatization in 2001 when the financial “Big Bang” deregulations are expected to be achieved. However, the post ministry and its workers as well as LDP members are strongly opposed to the privatization plan.

The LDP policy research council’s subcommittee on postal services last Aug. 28 adopted a resolution calling for maintenance of the present post ministry. The LDP’s attitude stems from the longtime vote-garnering efforts of national organization of regional post office chiefs that fiercely opposes the privatization of the three services. It is believed that LDP members fear they may lose support from the organization before an Upper House election scheduled for next summer if the ruling party consents to the privatization plan.

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