The government’s devolution panel has submitted to Prime Minister Taro Aso a second set of recommendations calling for the consolidation of regional offices of central government ministries and a reduction in the number of national servants working at such offices.

The scope of the reform contained in the plan is smaller than expected. This indicates that resistance is building from government ministries and bureaucrats as Mr. Aso’s grip on power weakens.

Some 210,000 of the nation’s 330,000 national servants work for the central government’s regional offices. The panel discussed what to do with 15 such offices in terms of jurisdiction. Under the panel’s proposal, only one — the Central Labor Relations Commission’s regional office — would be abolished and six offices would continue to exist with their organization streamlined. Two offices under the wing of the health, labor and welfare ministry would be integrated into a “bloc organization.”

Three other regional offices, consisting of branches of the infrastructure and transport ministry and the farm ministry, would be consolidated into a new “local works bureau” and yet another three regional offices into a new “local development bureau.” These new bureaus would be placed under the jurisdiction of the Cabinet Office. The central government is likely to retain substantial power in the regions despite the ideal of decentralization, since about 30,000 workers are expected to work for these new bureaus.

At present, 96,000 workers are working at the 15 regional offices. The panel called for reducing their number by about 35,000, with about 23,000 of them transferred to local governments. But the panel failed to make clear the deadline for the personnel reduction. The panel also decided to abolish or reduce 47 of some 400 types of work being done by the 15 regional offices and transfer 74 to local governments, allowing the central government ministries’ branches to retain quite a lot of work. Mr. Aso needs to do his best to prevent further dilution of the panel’s proposals due to pressure from bureaucrats.

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