Moves are afoot to dismantle the entrenched vertical structure of the administrative system as prefectural governments and municipalities try to cope with the decentralization of the central government.

Key features include the promotion and demotion of local public service employees, a candidacy system to assess municipal employees’ eligibility for promotion, recruitment of managers from among municipal employees and the abolition of departments and divisions.

It appears that top officials bent on reshaping the administrative system regard the termination of the seniority system as indispensable for boosting the economies of municipalities and invigorating local government offices.

Electrical appliance and automobile factories line both sides of a road in an industrial area of Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, a town known for its many Japanese-Brazilian residents, who comprise the majority of the workforce at the plants.

The number of foreign residents in Oizumi came to 5,333 as of March 31, accounting for 12.6 percent of the town’s population of 42,328.

Oizumi’s town office attracted the attention of other municipalities in fiscal 1998, when it abandoned the seniority-based system and began recruiting managers from outside the office.

Mayor Kazuo Kono, 71, said a change in the makeup of the town office was necessary in order to deal with residents of various nationalities.

“We had to take in people with flexible thinking,” he said.

All employees were eligible regardless of age or the posts they held.

Those interested were asked to submit reports to Kono, and to cite, among other things, their reasons for seeking a managerial post.

The town office has heard from 42 applicants to date, 12 of whom are now working as department and division chiefs.

One of them, 51-year-old Yoshiharu Ota, was among those who responded in 1998 to the first recruitment call. He became the first department head in his 40s and currently he is the chief of the department for promotion of the town’s development.

“Frankly, I was surprised (to get the position),” he said.

The cities of Hanyu, Saitama Prefecture, and Shimotsuma, Ibaraki Prefecture, preceded Oizumi in introducing the candidacy system for promoting municipal employees.

The Fukushima, Shizuoka and Kagawa Prefectural governments and the Takanosu town office in Akita Prefecture have started an in-house recruitment system that allows their employees to state what kind of jobs they want.

The city office in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture, opened the way in fiscal 1998 for those in managerial positions to demote themselves.

Komatsu, Ishikawa Prefecture, Sabae, Fukui Prefecture, and Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, have since followed suit.

The town office of Bihoro, Hokkaido, will introduce a similar system during this fiscal year.

An increasing number of local governments are recruiting people from the private sector to cope with diversified administrative problems such as financial measures and information technology.

On the other hand, the towns of Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture, and Nishiharu, Aichi Prefecture, eliminated “divisions” in April in an effort to simplify the office makeup and disposed of the detrimental effects of the vertical administrative structure.

Both offices hope the move will enable them to operate more flexibly and efficiently.

Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward this month started reducing the number of its departments and divisions and introduced a business operation system, in a move akin to a corporation spinning off its departments.

The ward is shifting part of its personnel and financial power to various departments and introducing a system of administrative assessment to let the departments compete among themselves.

Hiroshi Watanabe, 49, a former employee of Nikko Securities Co., was hired by the Fukuoka Prefectural Government in July 1999 to take a managerial post in the industrial planning division.

“I am happy that I can utilize the knowledge I acquired during the years I worked in Nikko and can contribute to society,” he said.

Watanabe, who was involved in the planning and development of derivatives and worked in London, is busy fostering venture businesses.

“Prefectural employees are talented, but the (office) system is old,” he said. “To eliminate stalemate, more people from the private sector should be employed.”

Fukushima Prefecture’s Miharu town office has eradicated all 16 divisions to slim down and invigorate its administrative system. It abolished the posts of division chief, deputy division chief and chief clerk.

Mayor Hiroshi Ito, 69, said, “Improvement in the efficiency of employees is indispensable for decentralization of the central government to move forward. In order to foster human resources, it is necessary for employees to assume important work when they are young and for their accountability to be made clear.

“There used to be 10 seals stamped on each paper coming to my desk for my approval, and I could not tell who was responsible. That was why I took the drastic step to eliminate middle manager posts.”

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