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Japan`s New Ruling Party to Take on Bureaucracy

Posted September. 03, 2009 08:22,   


The Democratic Party of Japan says it is ready to fight the mighty Japanese bureaucracy, but fears it could lose its battle against what has been considered an “unyielding power” unless it ends the battle as quickly as possible.

The new ruling party has exploited its grip on financial resources and personnel management to weaken bureaucrats, who have had close ties with the Liberal Democratic Party. The bureaucracy, however, has shown subtle signals of resistance.

Yet public workers have apparently decided to persuade the Democratic Party instead of going head-to-head against it.

○ Ending collusion

The dispute between the Democratic Party and the bureaucracy began with the May appointment of Shunichi Uchida as minister of the Consumer Affairs Agency. A former official at the Construction Ministry (now the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry), he was appointed by Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Though the Democratic Party said a new administration should have the right to appoint a new minister, this plea was ignored by Aso.

Under its pledge to “debureaucratize and end state affairs driven by politics,” the Democratic Party said it will not tolerate a minister who used to be a bureaucrat under the reign of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Tetsuro Fukuyama, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party’s policy research committee, said, “After launching a new administration, the Democratic Party will examine and reform procedures to appoint ministers.”

It is unclear, however, whether the Democratic Party can remove Uchida. Unlike the heads of other ministries, he is a government official whose status as a public servant is protected under law unless there are reasons for his dismissal.

Uchida said, “I understand that the Japanese people have a distrust of government officials. But I will fulfill my duties as the minister of the Consumer Affairs Agency.”

In short, Uchida is unwilling to resign from his post.

The Democratic Party also said yesterday that it will freeze spending of 1.7 trillion yen (18.3 billion U.S. dollars), including 700 billion yen (7.5 billion dollars) in urgent funding to nurture talent and support employment, out of the 4.3 trillion yen (46.3 billion dollars) allocated under the revised supplementary budget for fiscal 2009.

The party said it decided on the freeze because the Aso administration planned wasteful and ineffective projects irrelevant to the initial purposes of the revised supplementary budget. Experts said, however, that another reason is that affiliate organizations and agencies in charge of budget spending are run by retired bureaucrats.

Democratic Party leader Yukio Hatoyama said Tuesday that he would freeze the general accounts budget for next year of 92.13 trillion yen (993.1 billion dollars) and reconsider the budget plan from scratch. He said his party will reconsider the budget plan to raise funding for policies, but the party’s announcement implies that it will take the initiative from bureaucrats.

○ Subtle signs of resistance

Japanese bureaucrats seem to be following the policies of the Democratic Party. Vice ministers of finance and foreign affairs and Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa have visited party headquarters to celebrate its election victory last weekend.

Even the vice minister of the Economy, Trade and Industry, who opposed the party’s policies before the elections, said, “As government officials, we have to follow the decision of higher-ups.”

Nevertheless, Japan’s public organizations have used tact to subtly resist the new ruling party, citing logic and systematic procedures as reasons. In short, officials seek to persuade the party instead of fight it.

On the newly formed National Strategy Agency that will play a critical role under the Hatoyama administration, officials predict practical challenges. They say ministries and government agencies should decide budgets and policies, and that giving the authority to the agency runs counter to Hatoyama’s argument that decision-making procedures should fall within the government’s boundaries.

They also say it is wasteful to dispatch officials to the agency, which is in charge of all kinds of administrative works.

Critics also say the ruling party should not compete against government officials and instead draw up measures to make good use of them.