Bureaucratic cling

In December 2010, the government adopted an action plan to transfer regional bureaus of central government ministries to local governments to help the latter carry out “comprehensive” administrative work for local residents. But it is unclear whether the proposal made in late December by the government’s devolution strategy panel will accomplish the action plan’s goal.

The panel proposes that the regional infrastructure bureaus, the regional trade and industry bureaus and the regional environment bureaus be transferred to regional federations each to be made up of several prefectural governments. (The Okinawa and Hokkaido prefectural governments each can form such a federation by itself.) But the proposal includes provisions that the central government ministries can take advantage of to gain footholds in such federations and increase their power.

The proposal says that to oversee the functions transferred, a federation will either appoint a head or set up a board composed of heads of member prefectural governments. A prefectural governor can serve as such a head.

But the possibility cannot be ruled out that a bureaucrat sent from a central government ministry will serve as such a head. The proposal also says that besides such a head or board, a managing officer would be appointed. The possibility cannot be ruled out that a bureaucrat from a central government ministry will also serve as such an officer.

Central government ministries may insist that local government officials may not have enough knowledge and experience to serve in those positions.

But they should refrain from attempts to get positions to wield power over local governments. Instead they should help them without undermining their autonomy.

To carry out administrative work covering wide geographical areas, the proposal calls for integrating some functions and power of member prefectural governments with the federation. This provision could result in depriving prefectural governments of their current power over the management of rivers and highways.

The central government plans to submit a related bill to the Diet around May. It should make utmost efforts to stop central bureaucracy’s attempt to maintain their vested interests.

The bottom line should be letting entities closer to and more easily controlled by local residents provide services to them.