The credibility of Prime Minister Taro Aso as the nation’s top leader has slipped another notch after he flip-flopped again — this time about whether to split up the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

This ministry was established through the merger of the former Health and Welfare Ministry and the former Labor Ministry in 2001 as part of a government reorganization. The current ministry is enormous, using about half the government’s budget. Its jurisdiction includes pension, medical and nursing care services, other social welfare measures, labor policy and employment. The ministry is now busy with measures to cope with the new influenza.

It has been pointed out that the scope of the ministry’s jurisdiction is so big now that one minister cannot properly handle all issues related to it. Therefore, dividing the ministry is a possible option from a long-range viewpoint.

The problem is that Mr. Aso launched the idea of dividing the ministry without careful preparation and planning, and then retracted his proposal in less than two weeks after he encountered resistance from lawmakers and bureaucrats. What’s worse is that he apparently considered using the proposal, which requires long and in-depth discussion, as a quick and easy way to win support for the Liberal Democratic Party in the coming Lower House election.

At a meeting of a government panel on May 15, Mr. Aso expressed the idea that merely dividing the ministry might not suffice. He suggested integrating the Cabinet Office into one of the two new entities to create a “People’s Lives Ministry.” On May 19, he instructed Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano to start work on a concrete plan for dividing the ministry and its functions.

But facing resistance from Cabinet ministers, including Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe, lawmakers and bureaucrats, Mr. Aso withdrew his idea May 28, saying, “I have not been preoccupied with the idea from the first.” Frivolous should be the word to describe his about-face.

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