Administrative reform in sight

Its fate uncertain after being introduced in the Diet, the government’s administrative reform bill now looks set to pass both houses after the DPJ concluded an agreement with the LDP and Komeito on a compromise bill.

The bill, according to Asahi, will pass the HR’s cabinet committee on Wednesday and the whole HR on Thursday.

The government made several important concessions to the DPJ. The bill will create a cabinet personnel bureau that will be responsible for personnel decisions (as opposed to the government’s plan that permitted ministries and agencies to retain prime responsibility for personnel decisions). All contact between politicians and bureaucrats other than the those in the new class of officials responsible for relations between legislators and ministries will be recorded and made public — the DPJ was adamant on this point, and the government agreed. The DPJ failed to secure desired restrictions to prevent amakudari, as well as expanded labor rights for clerical officials, a clause desired by DPJ ally RENGO, Japan’s largest trade union confederation.

There is little reason for the DPJ to be disappointed. While it did not get everything it wanted, it got more than enough concessions from the government to claim that progress is being made along lines desired by the DPJ. In a stroke it has illustrated that it is capable of playing a constructive role in the policy process and push for greater transparency and accountability in Japanese governance. The Fukuda government, meanwhile, sounds happy just to have agreed to something and to have a signature bill progressing to passage without having to use Article 59. Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura declared, “The content has become considerably different from the original government bill, but we welcome the bill’s passage.”

Sankei has hailed this as a victory for Mr. Fukuda’s “silent reformism,” the prime minister’s understated approach to changing Japanese governance. While this may be a way for the prime minister to improve his public image, his position is no less tenuous. The DPJ, by agreeing to cooperate on administrative reform, has successfully used this issue as a wedge issue, separating the prime minister and the LDP’s reformists from the party’s zoku giin and other friends of the bureaucracy, who are already up in arms over the prime minister’s road construction reform plan. In agreeing to substantial concessions to the DPJ in order to secure a legislative victory to boost the government’s public standing, Mr. Fukuda may have further weakened his standing within the LDP.

But this is, as LDP HR member Yamauchi Koichi argues, a step forward. A step forward for who, well, that’s open to discussion.

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