National

Few warm to greater-Tokyo assembly idea

Kanagawa chief pushes new administrative body to deal with regional issues

by Yuji Utsunomiya

Kanagawa Gov. Shigefumi Matsuzawa advocates creation of an unprecedented regional administrative system that would deal with issues affecting the multiple prefectures and municipalities that constitute greater Tokyo.

Proponents of the idea hope to kick-start discussions when officials representing the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, and the city governments of Yokohama, Saitama, Chiba and Kawasaki, meet later this month.

Matsuzawa’s proposal has thus far not won over many local government leaders in the region. Skeptics point out that the prefectures and municipalities are at odds over major issues, including expansion of Tokyo’s Haneda airport and environmental protection.

“The December meeting will be held for building closer ties among local governments under the current framework of cooperation, not to discuss the regional administration proposed by the Kanagawa governor,” a Chiba prefectural official said.

The prefectural and municipal governments have been working together on regionwide issues during regular meetings since 1979. The December gathering is just another under this framework, the official stressed.

Since taking office in April, Matsuzawa has stated that Tokyo and its neighboring local governments should create a new common administrative organ and an assembly — on top of the existing local government tiers — tasked with addressing regionwide issues.

Matsuzawa has complained that the different interests pursued by local governments make the business of solving common issues such as environmental protection a time-consuming process.

A regional administration, which would operate on the basis of decisions reached by a majority vote in the regional assembly, would help speed up this process, he believes.

The new entity would have greater decision-making powers than prefectural and municipal governments on issues affecting the entire region.

During a news conference in mid-November, Matsuzawa said the regional administration would, for example, look to improve the quality of water in Tokyo Bay, build networks aimed at attracting international tourists and upgrade public safety measures.

The administration would eventually seek to secure the right to tax residents in the region, he said.

Matsuzawa raised the idea during a Nov. 13 meeting of local government leaders in the region, with Saitama Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda representing the lone voice of support.

Both Ueda and Matsuzawa were Diet members from the Democratic Party of Japan before seeking governorships.

The participants agreed to hold a staff-level meeting in December to seek further cooperation among the local governments, though they failed to specify whether Matsuzawa’s proposal would be on the agenda.

Many local government officials appear hesitant to address the proposal in the December meeting, fearing that establishment of such a body would interfere with their own policy agendas.

A Kanagawa prefectural official said, however, that Matsuzawa’s proposal would be discussed.

Taro Kamagata, a regional policy and planning specialist at Mitsubishi Research Institute, said local governments won’t accept policies that run counter to the interests of their residents, so they probably wouldn’t agree to decisions imposed on them by a powerful new regional administration.

He noted that if the regional administration were established, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government would face difficulty in launching a congestion charge system, which could reduce the flow of vehicles into the capital, amid opposition from its neighbors.

Chiba Gov. Akiko Domoto also opposes Matsuzawa’s proposal.

As host to Narita airport — Japan’s main international gateway — her prefecture is at odds with other local governments in the region over the expansion of Haneda airport.

Haneda, which is much closer to central Tokyo, could threaten Narita’s position if it is upgraded further to accommodate more international flights. Since the 1978 opening of Narita, Haneda has primarily handled domestic flights.

Yuri Ono, another researcher at Mitsubishi Research Institute, said municipal governments nationwide have been experimenting with the regional administration concept.

Yet these entities have formed only loose ties for settling specific issues where a consensus is relatively easy to obtain, such as over garbage-disposal systems, she said.

Ono cited the successful cooperation of local governments in the greater Tokyo area in introducing regulations in October aimed at curbing particulate matter emitted by diesel-engine vehicles.

“The current framework of cooperation among local governments in the greater Tokyo area has been working effectively, given the large size of the area,” she said.

Naohiko Jinno, an economics professor at the University of Tokyo and a member of a government advisory panel dealing with local political systems, said Matsuzawa’s proposals could be efficient in reducing local administrative costs by coordinating policies that concern the entire region.

Yet the establishment of a regional administration would also probably support industries that compete on a regionwide basis, at the cost of local ones that don’t and the agricultural sector, Jinno said.

“It would result in bringing benefits to only Tokyo (where many of the big firms are headquartered), while other prefectures would suffer from a decline in local industries,” he said.