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A government-proposed bill that will serve as the framework for Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s plans for a slimmer administration — one of his six major reform goals — cleared the Diet late Tuesday afternoon.

Hashimoto’s pet legislation aims to reduce 22 government ministries and agencies to one Cabinet Office and 12 ministries. Hashimoto has said the restructuring will create a “streamlined, efficient and transparent” government.

The bill stipulates that the new administrative system must be in place within five years of the law’s enactment, although Hashimoto himself said he hopes to launch the new system in January 2001. After approval from an Upper House panel, the administrative reform bill cleared the full chamber with support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its two former allies — the Social Democratic Party and New Party Sakigake — despite opposition from other forces.

Hashimoto spent considerable time and energy on the administrative reform issue last year. LDP Secretary General Koichi Kato said passage of the bill is significant in that streamlining the government will also promote fiscal reform. “We believe that people in the future will appreciate the enactment of the legislation as a historical moment,” Kato told reporters.

Kato went on to say that its passage is particularly impressive because it came near the end of a Diet session riddled with issues related to lingering financial and economic problems.

Enactment of the law will be followed by the formation next month of a government panel, consisting of all Cabinet members and headed by Hashimoto, to work out specific details of the reform measures. The panel will prepare bills to set up each of the 13 new government bodies outlined by the legislation.

Hashimoto has told the Diet he hopes the new bills will be submitted by March, early enough to be passed by the end of the next regular legislative session next June.

The prime minister hopes that after the bills are passed, budget allocations for the new administrative system will be included in the government’s fiscal 2000 budget so the new system can be introduced in January 2001. Hashimoto has said that a third party will be set up to watch over the administrative consolidation.

The legislation was drafted in line with a report compiled in December by the Administrative Reform Council, a key government panel headed by Hashimoto. The law says that under the new administrative system, the number of ministers will be limited to between 15 and 17, including special ministers in charge of specific matters such as gender equality in social participation.

To create a slimmer government, the number of ministry bureaus will be reduced from the current 128 to about 90 and the number of government employees will be cut by 10 percent in the decade following the introduction of the new administrative system.

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