Koizumi slams ‘amakudari’ gravy train

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered his Cabinet ministers Tuesday to take steps to halt “amakudari,” the practice of senior bureaucrats retiring early to join government-affiliated organizations as highly paid executives, because of the corruption that can result.

“We need to overhaul the current practice,” Koizumi told reporters at his office.

Too many bureaucrats retire in their early 50s, indirectly bringing pressure to bear to create these posts in public corporations, he said.

Home affairs minister Toranosuke Katayama and Nobuteru Ishihara, state minister in charge of administrative reform, were told to discuss the specifics of the review, including when to introduce a new system, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said during his daily news briefing.

According to government sources, Koizumi’s latest order is aimed at eradicating the practice of amakudari (descent from heaven), in which retired civil servants land jobs in sectors formerly under their jurisdiction and typically try to obtain favors for their new employers from the agencies they previously worked for.

Fukuda said the government hopes to study, possibly starting in the next fiscal year, the idea of gradually raising the age at which government officials can receive their retirement allowance.

The top government spokesman said that unless the current system is rectified, the hierarchical administration typical of government agencies will extend into special corporations to which such people move as well.

“We want to study the idea, with five years in mind. In any event, I think the seniority system will eventually disappear and should disappear,” he said.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma called for also revising the seniority-oriented pay structure to one that peaks at a certain age in line with performance.

“In my personal view, we had better consider a structure under which pay levels do not rise immutably but fall after a certain point,” Hiranuma told a news conference.

But Atsuko Toyama, minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, told reporters, “I do not think it is right to simply categorize landing such jobs as amakudari, as various organizations may want to take advantage of the abilities of retired bureaucrats.”

As of Dec. 1, more than 540 former senior government officials who retired in 2001 had been hired by companies or public corporations related to the ministries and agencies they worked for, according to an annual government report.

Under an informal system operating in all government ministries and agencies, highly placed officials are encouraged to retire early to make way for upcoming “career” officials, with those who quit often landing jobs with firms with ties to a government agency.