The Local Government System Research Council, an advisory body for the prime minister, on Aug. 24 started discussions for the first time in two years. In the past, the council devoted its energy to increasing the power of local governments, and generally attention was focused on administrative actions taken by municipality mayors and prefectural governors.
This time the council is expected to first discuss a basic question of how to increase autonomy of local residents. It is hoped that the panel will deepen discussions on how to better reflect local residents’ opinions and voices in the administration of municipal and prefectural governments.
Local residents in principle should be the ones who have the final say in decisions on matters related to their communities.
Local assemblies play an important role of reflecting local residents’ views in local government.
The assemblies must not only oversee the behavior of local government heads but also listen to local residents’ opinions in deciding on the direction of the local administration. Their tasks are embodied in budgets and by-laws.
But these days, local assemblies in many parts of Japan are stagnant and have become a kind of rubber-stamp of local government heads. In this situation, a gap develops between local residents and local assemblies.
Assembly members should realize that even under the current system, they can revitalize local assemblies by increasing dialogue with local residents through such means as hearings and briefing sessions to help make decisions wanted by them.
The panel should discuss new ways to bring local assemblies close to local residents at a time when the central government is pushing devolution. It also should discuss how local residents, local assemblies and nongovernmental organizations can cooperate.
The panel also should discuss such matters as introduction of referendums on particular policy matters or projects, including large public works, public facilities, nuclear power stations and acceptance of military bases.
It will also need to take up the issue of simplifying the procedure to recall mayors of large cities.
How to keep the functions of municipal governments at the time of a major disaster also should not be forgotten.
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