Japan from the inside out

Heaven sent

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 24, 2011

Amakudari refers to golden parachuting, i.e., the placement of civil servants in post-retirement jobs within entities their former government ministries supervise.
– Hatoyama Yukio, prime minister’s e-mail magazine, 2 April 2010

Hypocrisy is a sort of homage that vice pays to virtue.
– La Rochefoucauld

A CLEVER definition of the term regulatory capture is the capture of the regulators by the regulated. It’s endemic to every country, but it’s a particular problem in Japan because of the practice of amakudari, which former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio defined not as cleverly in the passage cited above. (The word itself means “descending from heaven” in English.)

The Tohoku earthquake has offered the political class the opportunity to again demonstrate their inability to control the practice. Oversight of the nuclear power industry is the responsibility of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry; and the Nuclear Safety Commission, affiliated with the Cabinet Office. Another government body affiliated with METI is the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which also has authority over power companies, and which has promoted the use of nuclear power.

Tokyo Electric Power hired Ishida Toru, the former head of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, as an advisor this January just four months after he left the agency. The third person to slide from a position at METI or its predecessor to a position at TEPCO, Mr. Ishida was to be named a director in June. The utility said it hired him because the Democratic Party-led government is interested in promoting emissions trading, and they wanted someone who had close ties to the ministry.

One reason the DPJ finally unseated the LDP after decades of nearly uninterrupted rule is that the LDP had turned its back on reform in the post-Koizumi/Abe period. As prime minister, Aso Taro ceded too much control to the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. In their manifesto for the 2009 lower house election campaign, the DPJ promised to “eradicate amakudari”.

Eradication did not include objecting to Mr. Ishida’s employment with Tokyo Electric, however. Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio was asked about that at a news conference in February. He said it wasn’t a problem because it wasn’t illegal under current law. Mr. Edano added that TEPCO hired Mr. Ishida on their own initiative, rather than through the recommendation of a bureaucrat or agency. During his term in office, Mr. Hatoyama had banned only that amakudari which involved offering employment based on such recommendations.

Others were not so forgiving, even though Mr. Ishida was not directly responsible for dealing with the problems at the Fukushima power plant. One LDP member said that even they wouldn’t have allowed that appointment. While admitting that his party had a problem with accepting amakudari, he claimed they at least made people wait two years before taking a position of that sort.

It soon became apparent that the explanation wasn’t holding and that the government would have to do something to quiet the objections. Mr. Edano appeared at a news conference on the morning of the 18th to call for “self-restraint” in reemployment. He said the government would:

“…devise a mechanism for self-restraint for the time being for the reemployment at TEPCO of former METI executives, including those from NISA, NSC, and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, so as not to create mistrust among the people…We plan to make other power companies aware of this mechanism and will ask them to cooperate.”

Thus, it would seem the DPJ’s promise to “eradicate amakudari” means asking the bureaucrats to lay low for the time being to prevent the natives from growing restless.

Ignoring the request will result in no penalties, and there is no indication how long “for the time being” will last. Further, the rationale of “not creating mistrust among the people” suggests the government thinks there’s nothing wrong with the practice. It just doesn’t look good.

Mr. Edano also said he hoped Ishida Toru would take it upon himself to resign, but repeated the assertion that there was nothing improper about him taking the position to begin with. He did allow that a sense of mistrust could arise among the people, so stronger measures were needed to deal with situations that weren’t strictly illegal. He added that the government would come up with some ideas in a couple of weeks. These would be added to the government’s proposed public employee reemployment reforms announced on 5 April. They plan to create a new organization for oversight based on the idea of prohibiting reemployment on the recommendation of bureaucrats.

METI played along by saying they would investigate the accident at Fukushima, and that until they reached their conclusions, they had devised the following mechanism for reemployment at power companies “so as not to create mistrust among the people”. (The wording was identical to Mr. Edano’s.) The mechanism has three parts:

1. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of administrative deputy ministers, METI deputy ministers, deputy ministers for policy coordination, and secretariat heads from the three organizations as officers.

2. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of people in other designated positions as officers for a maximum of three years.

3. They asked for self-restraint for the reemployment at power companies of people serving as department heads or in higher positions at the three organizations for a maximum of two years.

Restraining oneself from jumping into a golden parachute and floating down for a landing in the gravy train might be difficult under normal circumstances, but in this case the can got kicked down the road for just two or three years. Surely the mouth-breathers will have forgotten about it by then.

METI Minister Kaieda Banri also appeared at a news conference to announce that Mr. Ishida had resigned all by himself. He denied the government had anything to do with it. This is the same government, you’ll remember, that denied involvement with the decision not to prosecute the Chinese fishing boat captain who rammed two Japanese ships in the Senkakus last September. (A review panel in Okinawa last week concluded the decision to release the captain was inappropriate and that he should have been prosecuted, but we knew that last year.)

Mr. Kaieda was asked about the practice of amakudari for former METI employees at other power companies. He said the “circumstances are different” for utilities other than Tokyo Electric. Reporters also asked him if the new guidelines meant that other METI veterans employed at TEPCO don’t have to quit. His answer: “I didn’t say that.”

Though Edano Yukio said on the 18th that the government’s proposal to limit amakudari had to be beefed up, Nakano Kansei, the minister in charge of civil service reform, revealed at a news conference a day later there were no plans to add stronger measures to the reform bill they planned on presenting during this Diet session. According to the Jiji news agency, he said he had received instructions from Mr. Edano just that morning to continue work on the legislation “in accordance with the original overall conception”, and that he agreed with those instructions.

What happened to the DPJ’s claim that they would “exterminate amakudari”? Following this sequence of events will aid in understanding.

October 2009

One month after the DPJ government took power, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio—whose father began his career as a Finance Ministry bureaucrat—defined amakudari down by saying it referred to former bureaucrats hired by an organization receiving public funds, but who performed no real work.

The Hatoyama Cabinet submitted a definition to a Diet committee stating that if a former civil servant was rehired by a government agency without a specific recommendation it was not amakudari, but rather good employment practices.

The same month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirano Hirofumi said that restrictions on amakudari would not apply to cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, administrative secretaries, or bureaucrats. He added that if former bureaucrats employed at independent administrative corporations (amakudari hotbeds) recommended junior members of their former ministry or agency for employment at those same corporations, it would not be considered amakudari.

27 October 2009

Kyodo obtained documents circulated the previous week instructing ministries and agencies to create answers for Messrs. Hatoyama and Hirano to use at Question Time in the fall session of the Diet, shortly after party Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro proposed banning bureaucrats from offering Diet testimony. Critics charged that the request contradicted the new government’s assertion it would disassociate from the bureaucracy and that politicians would lead the government.

The documents asked “for the same cooperation of the ministries and agencies as had been extended in the past,” i.e., the Aso administration. They also asked that “the wording have an elevated tone suitable for the prime minister” and the memos have “simple content in consideration of the content of the question”

28 October 2009

Mr. Hatoyama answered his first questions in the Diet and was seen reading directly from memos in his hand.

He insisted it was actually political leadership:

“It is a fact that I have received cooperation for data collection (from the bureaucracy). But I evaluated the information with my own eyes, and assumed a major role in writing the memos.”

One senior member of a ministry told a reporter:

“The content of our work has not changed since the days of the LDP administrations.”

November 2009

The General Insurance Association of Japan, which has 27 non-life insurers as members, appointed Makino Jiro, the former head of the National Tax Agency and an ex-Finance Ministry employee, as vice chairman. He replaced another Finance Ministry veteran who had been appointed vice president of Japan Post.

The association denied that this constituted amakudari. They had simply appointed the person most suitable for the job.

The majority of association vice-chairmen have been Finance Ministry veterans.

February 2010

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported the results of its survey that showed Japan Post—whose privatization was stalled by the DPJ government—had 157 affiliated corporations in the JP “family”, and that 63 of them had 654 amakudari appointments.

In 2007, the LDP government proposed consolidating or eliminating them as part of the privatization process. The organization with the most amakudari employees was the Kanyo Hoken Kanyusha Kyokai, an association for people with Japan Post insurance. It’s also involved in promoting NHK’s radio exercises. 45% of their employees are former bureaucrats.

Early 2010

During the second DPJ policy review, then-Reform Minister Edano Yukio recommended returning the National Printing Bureau to the control of the Finance Ministry. He explained his reasons in a speech:

“There are about four former Finance Ministry officials there receiving high salaries. It functioned well in the past as a bureau in the old Finance Ministry, so we think that’s the most economical (way).”

Jiji pointed out that the LDP wanted to privatize the bureau, and that the DPJ 2009 election manifesto called for the “sweeping review” of such bodies, including elimination.

Others pointed out that the 4,600 members of the bureau’s enterprise union would now become government employees. The DPJ’s largest organizational support comes from labor unions.

The opposition wondered if by exterminating amakudari, the DPJ really meant everyone would go to work for the government.

It had already been revealed after the first policy review that the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau had scripted the entire process.

At about the same time, Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP reform wing challenged Prime Minister Hatoyama during Question Time in the Diet. He charged that the DJP had narrowed the definition of amakudari, and that they had essentially taken credit for exterminating it by eliminating only those practices that applied to their definition, though the practices for the most part remained the same.

Mr. Hatoyama responded:

“Of the organizational posts you are asking about, I think the state ministers in charge are appointing the most suitable personnel. I hope to appropriately respond so that the problem of veterans of those ministries who were public employees being appointed to such posts despite a lack of knowledge or ability doesn’t occur.”

19 March 2010

The weekly Shukan Post for this date reported that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport intended to launch a nationwide taxicab service rating system that began in Tokyo at the end of February. Taxi service would be rated by customers according to three grades: AA, A, and none. The rating is to be placed on a sticker that must be displayed near the door.

Supervising the rating system in Tokyo is a foundation called the Tokyo Taxi Center, formerly known as the Tokyo Taxi Modernization Center. The managing director was once the head of the Administrative Division in the Kanto District Transport Bureau of the same ministry. The executive director is the former head of the National Police Agency’s Drivers License Division.

These amakudari positions for mid-tier bureaucrats pay JPY 10 million a year.

Each taxi company must fork over JPY 35,500 per cab to pay for the operation of the rating system, which would mean JPY 1.4 billion overall. The ministry says the objective is to enable passengers to choose good taxis and drivers.

Groups with amakudari employees in cities and prefectures around the country have begun registering drivers for the rating system. The Kanagawa Taxi Center—with three former employees of the Kanto District Transport Bureau—is getting JPY 22,200 for each cab.

Drivers don’t like the system, but have no outlet for their complaints. There are an estimated 360,000 cab drivers nationwide, and they work on a system of splitting their revenue 50/50 with the company. Male drivers averaged JPY 3.26 million in income in 2008, less than two-thirds that of the average laborer in industry. Half of the drivers in Tokyo averaged less than JPY three million, and 20% less than JPY two million.

The ministry relaxed the rules to allow more taxis on the street during the economic downturn as an employment measure. Under this system, however, more taxis mean more income for the quangos.

April 2010

Sengoku Yoshito, who had taken over as reform minister, testified in the Diet that the government intended to abolish the post of jimujikan (administrative secretary, or aide), and replace it with jimukakari fukudaijin, or administrative vice-ministers.

Critics claimed this was another instance of the DPJ government caving in to the bureaucracy. The jobs won’t disappear; rather, the people who fill them will receive a different title at a higher rank and salary. If the duties of these people were necessary, critics insisted, they could be assigned to the heads of the ministry secretariats. The objective was to expand the government.

This is the practical definition of “exterminating amakudari” in the DPJ lexicon.

Writing about American political campaigns in 1940, H.L. Mencken knew exactly what was going on:

“They will all promise every man, woman and child in the country whatever he, she or it wants. They’ll all be roving the land looking for chances to make the rich poor, to remedy the irremediable, to succor the unsuccorable, to unscramble the unscrambleable, to dephlogisticate the undephlogisticable. They will all be curing warts by saying words over them, and paying off the national debt with money no one will have to earn. When one of them demonstrates that twice two is five, another will prove that it is six, six and a half, ten, twenty, n. In brief, they will divest themselves from their character as sensible, candid and truthful men, and simply become candidates for office, bent only on collaring votes.”

The second round of sub-national elections is being held throughout the country today. The results are expected to be as dismal for the DPJ as those of the other elections since they formed a government. The Japanese electorate has come to understand the party can’t be counted on to fulfill promises they never intended to keep. That explains why so many voters say they feel betrayed, rather than disappointed.

To be sure, it takes cojones for Japanese politicians to tackle Kasumigaseki. The bureaucrats had a hand in bringing down the Hashimoto and Abe administrations, and Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi said they threatened him with a “coup d’etat” if he pursued his civil service reforms when he was still in the LDP.

That won’t absolve the DPJ, however. The nation is tired of waiting for their testicles to descend.

This week has been dandelion season for political rumors. If they’re true, Mr. Kan is about to be sent to the killing floor. They should have quit him a long time ago.

The Wolf wasn’t there, but his guitarist was.

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4 Responses to “Heaven sent”

  1. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Hubert Sumlin! He is old now….I am afraid that he seemed to be bit late in picking strings, that is why in the middle part of each chorus his lick cannot be heard well – muted inadvertently.

  2. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Evil is goin’ on….

    2: That’s a good one. He’s restrained from what he once did. I read that the band warmed up the audience first, then he would come on stage while they were playing riding a mini-motorbike, hop off, and let it spin around on the stage. He ended his concerts by climbing up to the top of the curtains at the edge of the stage and howling at the top of his voice.
    I read a story by someone who claimed to have seen it about a show he gave at an art school in Chicago in the mid-60s. Three female students sat on the floor right in front of him bouncing around to the music. Finally The Wolf looked down at one of them, reached down, and squeezed her tits in mid-song without missing a beat.
    They didn’t get angry.
    – A.

  3. toadold said

    Dang I get remember the name but their was manga that got translated to English that really took aim at the amakudari system. It had a quite bloody solution to the problem. It listed so many effects and predations from the system it would be easier to list the ways it didn’t. I’ve ran across scathing reference to it in anime also. ‘Crats who thing the public doesn’t notice in both Japan or the US the corruption are living on borrowed time. In the US we are seeing “reporters” going from jobs in the media to jobs in the government or indirect consultants and vs. versa. Stephanofolous is an example as is Lanny Davis.

  4. M-Bone said

    “Dang I get remember the name but their was manga”



    The main character is a masked superhero who kills politicians and Amakudari guys with an axe.

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