Prime Minister Taro Aso has come out rather harsh against the job-placement practices of bureaucrats in postretiretment. But it is unclear whether this change of mind will lead to effective control of the practices criticized for giving unfair advantages to bureaucrats.

The practice of retired bureaucrats landing lucrative jobs at entities under the jurisdictions of the ministries or agencies that they worked for is called amakudari (descent from heaven). Repeatedly landing such posts for a short stint and collecting retirement allowances each time is called watari (migration). Most such bureaucrats retire before reaching retirement age.

On Jan. 29, Mr. Aso indicated that he will prohibit government ministries and agencies from making arrangements for watari. Nevertheless, he did not touch on a December government ordinance that allows watari in extremely exceptional cases over the next three years. Opposition forces had called for rescinding this ordinance.

Then, on Feb. 3, Mr. Aso said the government will enact an ordinance, effective in 2010, that prohibits ministries and agencies from making arrangements for either amakudari or watari. In December, the government set up a public-private personnel exchange promotion center to match retiring bureaucrats with companies and organizations just once. The center is to start functioning in 2011.

Regardless of whether the center functions properly or not, retired bureaucrats who have already landed jobs may offer their jobs to, or make arrangements for, newly retiring bureaucrats. So, the new ordinance proposed by Mr. Aso will have little effect, and watari may even continue.

A simple solution would be to prohibit bureaucrats from landing jobs, through any arrangement, at entities operating under the auspices of their former ministries and agencies. To make this work, the government will need to establish a system in which bureaucrats continue to work until retirement age. It will also have to devise a way to curb personnel costs even if old bureaucrats increase in number.

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