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The Cabinet on June 22 adopted a devolution strategy outline that covers the next two to three years. The decision is good news for local governments because it had been feared that following the sudden resignation of former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who was eager to push devolution, the Cabinet decision on devolution would not come until after the July 11 Upper House election. Three devolution-related bills already submitted to the Diet have been carried over to the next Diet session.

The outline calls for loosening 528 strict rules in administrative matters involving local governments and transferring power from the central government to local governments in 251 fields. The administration of Prime Minister Naoto Kan plans to submit related bills to the Diet in 2011.

Through looser rules, for example, local governments could have more freedom in operating vocational schools, such as setting the types of training and training periods, and in deciding the width and angle of barrier-free ramps in parks. Through transfer of power, they could develop urban planning in accordance with local conditions and carry out home-visit programs to help prematurely born infants even if they do not have public health centers in their area.

From fiscal 2011, the central government, in a phased manner, will turn subsidies with strings attached into grants that can be used more freely. But it has stopped short of completely freeing up the existing subsidies. It will designate several “blocs” according to the types of the use of grants. Within each bloc, local governments can use grants freely. There is the possibility the central government ministries will retain some power over grants since the outlines call for the Board of Audit’s checks on the use of grants.

As the basis for advancing devolution, the Kan administration should take great care so that its financial reconstruction efforts will not be carried out through sacrificing of funds for local governments. The latter, for their part, should realize that they will have greater responsibility in using their power and money.

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