A government panel on the local autonomy system is discussing what should be the ideal form of municipal government. Through their welfare and education services and community revitalization programs, etc., municipalities are the closest governments to citizens. The panel’s discussion focuses on whether to promote mergers of municipalities or not.

Since 2000, central government policy has promoted mergers. The number of municipalities as of Jan. 1, 2009 stood at 1,781, about 45 percent fewer than the 3,232 at the end of March 1999.

The National Association of Towns and Villages says the central government should stop promoting mergers, adding that recent mergers have widened the “distance,” both geographical and psychological, between residents and municipal governments. It also says peripheral areas, including areas where municipal government offices used to be, have declined in prosperity. It also points to lower administrative efficiency in some merged municipalities.

The association complains that the central government forced the mergers without any clear idea of a model, resulting in the weakening of village communities and of the sense among residents that they are protected by town or village governments close to them.

The government panel should pay close attention to the association’s views and observations. As long as it sticks to the idea that every municipality must carry out all administrative work spelled out under the Local Autonomous Law, it will have no alternative but to push mergers to ensure that each municipality is large enough to carry out that work.

Instead, the panel should consider promoting confederacies of a number of municipalities. Under such an arrangement, municipalities could cooperate and carry out certain services more efficiently, while still being able to act on an individual basis to meet residents’ particular needs when warranted. Giving such confederacies the right to collect taxes and receive grants in aid from the central government would be an important option.

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