In the current session, the Diet has enacted a law to give legal backing to a forum in which the Cabinet members concerned and local government leaders exchange opinions on policy matters.

The law is the result of the Democratic Party of Japan government’s efforts to give more power to local governments.

The enactment of the law makes it difficult for the central government to impose its policy decisions on local governments. It is hoped that both sides will engage in constructive discussions in the forum that spur the improvement of social welfare and other administrative services provided by local governments.

A forum for the Cabinet members concerned and local government leaders was first established under the Koizumi administration but it lacked legal teeth.

After the DPJ came to power, the Hatoyama administration submitted a bill to the Diet to remedy this defect.

Now the central and local governments are required to “respect” points they have agreed on and the content of their discussions will be reported to the Diet.

The forum is attended by the chief Cabinet secretary, the internal affairs minister and other Cabinet ministers concerned as well as leaders of the national associations of prefectural governors and municipal mayors, and the national associations of chairpersons of prefectural and municipal assemblies.

The first meeting of the forum since the enactment of the law was June 13 at the prime minister’s official residence and dealt with concrete issues — reconstruction of areas devastated March 11 and the central government’s plan to raise the consumption tax to 10 percent from the current 5 percent by fiscal 2015.

Local leaders protested the central government’s failure to mention that revenues from the consumption tax will be used for such services provided by local governments as cancer tests, medical checkups of infants and young children and vaccination against influenza. The central government agreed to present them a revised plan.

It is hoped that the forum will help create a system in which local governments can provide services free from rigid rules while at the same time avoiding waste.

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