Ditching a political vision

The Democratic Party of Japan’s manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election envisaged establishing a National Strategy Bureau directly under the prime minister. The bureau would gather talented people from both the private and public sectors to work out a national vision and decide on the framework of the government budget.

It and the Government Revitalization Unit to detect and eliminate government waste were to serve as the “two wheels” of a political setup in which elected lawmakers take the initiative in developing policy measures.

But Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s July 15 decision could wreck this vision. He has given up on the plan to upgrade the current National Strategy Office to a legally backed “Bureau” and decided to downgrade the functions of the office. It will be deprived of the power to coordinate different government ministries and agencies; instead, it will focus on making proposals and providing information on domestic matters and diplomacy to the prime minister.

This follows the July 11 election loss of the ruling camp’s majority in the Upper House. The prospect of Diet passage of government reform bills, including the planned upgrade of the National Strategy Office to the National Strategy Bureau, has weakened. The Kan administration appears to have lost the tenacity and perseverance to do the necessary groundwork to get cooperation from the opposition forces or to form a coalition with an opposition party so that important bills can pass the Diet.

In the Hatoyama administration, Mr. Kan, who served as national strategy minister, did coordination work for the fiscal 2010 budget. In the Kan administration, the trio of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Mr. Koichiro Genba, the DPJ’s policy affairs chief, will do coordination work for the fiscal 2011 budget. National strategy minister Satoshi Arai will be excluded from the team. Mr. Sengoku is likely to lead the team, but he is very busy and not supported by enough staffers. The trio must be careful so that they will not be co-opted by bureaucrats.