The abolition in principle of regional bureaus of central government ministries is a pillar of the DPJ-led government’s policy of pushing devolution. Of some 300,000 national public servants, nearly 200,000 belong to regional bureaus of central government ministries. The first step toward the abolition of regional bureaus is the transfer of regional bureaus of the infrastructure and transport ministry, the trade and industry ministry and the Environment Ministry to regional federations of local governments. But the Cabinet has not yet endorsed a bill for the transfer — a step needed for submission of the bill to the Diet.

The main purpose of the transfer of regional bureaus of the three ministries is to eradicate overlapping of administration between the ministries and local governments. The transfer must be designed to contribute to increasing efficiency and ending the wasteful use of funds, personnel and other resources. But the new setup must be capable of quickly and properly meeting the needs of local governments and residents. This will not be an easy task.

The main reason for the delay of the bill’s submission to the Diet is that many municipalities are opposed to the transfer of regional bureaus because they saw the Tohoku Regional Development Bureau of the infrastructure and transport ministry play an important role in the rescue and restoration work in the aftermath of the 3/11 disasters.

The cities, towns and villages fear that if regional development bureaus are transferred to regional federations, they may not be able to promptly take necessary actions to fulfill their duties in a variety of areas including infrastructure construction and disaster prevention. In August, a group of some 500 city, town and village mayors adopted a resolution opposing the transfer of regional bureaus.

The three ministries vehemently resist the transfer plan because they will lose sections, personnel and budgets. The bill gives them room to scale down the scope of administrative power that must be transferred. It states that a government ordinance will decide what administrative powers should be transferred.

A transfer of regional development bureaus would make it easy to carry out such activities as construction of roads truly needed by local residents and industries, and easier to more efficiently manage water resources of long rivers running through more than one prefecture. But in view of the need to prepare for the massive earthquakes expected to happen in Tokyo and the Nankai trough, municipalities believe that the regional development bureaus directly under the jurisdiction of the infrastructure and transport ministry would be more reliable than bureaus transferred to regional federations.

The central government, the associations of prefectural governors and the associations of municipal mayors should fully discuss from the viewpoint of making regional bureaus useful for local residents as well as controllable by them so that the transfer issue will be resolved in a convincing way.

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