Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday instructed digital transformation minister Takuya Hirai to speed up preparations to establish a government agency to lead the efforts for digitalizing society.
The government aims to submit legislation to set up the agency to next year’s regular session of the Diet, which is expected to be convened in January, for enactment during the session.
Suga hopes to see the launch of the new agency as early as next year so that his government, which was inaugurated Wednesday, can rack up achievements before his term as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expires Sept. 2021.
The establishment of such an agency is one of the key policy proposals Suga presented during the LDP leadership election earlier this month.
“What is required is speed that Kasumigaseki has never experienced before,” Hirai told reporters after meeting with the prime minister, referring to the district in Tokyo where many central government offices are located. “I want to do this with full effort.”
“I’m planning to make it a government office that is different from existing establishments, and make it an agency that allows people to feel the next generation,” the minister said at a news conference later on Thursday, indicating that the new digital agency will employ private-sector people as part of its staff.
The push for digitalization comes as the country’s slowness to adopt digital technologies has been revealed amid the novel coronavirus epidemic. The insufficient spread of My Number identification cards has led to delays in the distribution of ¥100,000 handouts per person to all citizens in the nation in a coronavirus relief program, and government officials were unable to hold video meetings due to the incompatibility between systems adopted by different institutions.
The spread of teleworking in Japan has also been slow due to the traditional custom of requiring paper documents and personal seals.
Suga believes that one reason behind the delay in digitalization is the fact that related work in the government is currently dispersed among such agencies as the internal affairs ministry and the industry ministry. He hopes to speed up the country’s digital transformation by unifying the work under one agency.
The move to establish the digital agency is also in line with his goal of eradicating bureaucratic sectionalism, which has prevented smooth cooperation among ministries and agencies.
Hirai will draw up a road map for establishing the agency and promoting digitalization of society. The government aims to submit a set of legislation, including bills on establishing the agency and revising the information technology basic law, to the 2021 regular Diet session.
Another problem is the lack of popularity of My Number cards, reflecting people’s distrust over the government managing their personal information. In order to increase the use of the cards, which the prime minister believes is a key to the promotion of digitalization, the government must do more to explain it to citizens and seek their understanding, sources familiar with the matter said.