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The Hatoyama Cabinet on Feb. 19 endorsed a bill to revise the law governing national public servants and submitted it to the Diet. It aims to enable the Prime Minister’s Office to centralize control of personnel affairs related to high-ranking bureaucrats. The administration hopes to implement the new system from April 1 to help the Democratic Party of Japan realize its goal of having lawmakers take the initiative in making policy. It is important, though, that the Cabinet use the new system in a fair manner and give due consideration to bureaucrats’ morale.

A Cabinet personnel bureau — headed by a parliamentary deputy chief Cabinet secretary, a senior vice minister or a person picked by the prime minister — will be established within the Cabinet’s secretariat to centralize personnel management.

Under the new system, the chief Cabinet secretary will test the competence of candidates for high-ranking posts, including people recommended for such posts by Cabinet ministers and those who have applied via open recruitment. Candidates for administrative vice minister, bureau chief and department chief posts in all ministries and agencies will be listed in a central pool. Cabinet ministers will then pick those they deem best suited for the jobs, in consultation with the prime minister and the chief Cabinet secretary.

Administrative vice ministers, bureau chiefs and department chiefs will be regarded as being on the same level of the hierarchy. Thus a vice minister or bureau chief can be made a department head without the move being deemed a demotion. Abuse of the system to advance vested interests must not be allowed.

Under the new system, the Cabinet is still obliged to respect the independence of necessarily neutral entities such as the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office, the National Police Agency, the Board of Audit and the National Personnel Authority.

Since the new system will strengthen Cabinet members’ power over the appointment and evaluation of high-ranking bureaucrats, it will be all the more important to properly assess the performance of current bureaucrats and the qualifications of hopeful candidates. In this sense, the Cabinet ministers’ responsibility will deepen. They must prevent sycophancy in the bureaucracy and create an environment in which bureaucrats will gladly help them execute policy initiatives.

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