Japan from the inside out

More on Hatoyama the hapless, part three

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, April 22, 2012

This magazine has for some time pointed out that the policy reviews were nothing more than a performance staged by the Finance Ministry, and led to no actual reductions in expenditures.
– The 13 April 2012 edition of the weekly Shukan Post

EVEN someone with a grasp of reality as diaphanous as that of Hatoyama Yukio understood the primary reason for his party’s victory in the general election of 2009. Shortly after that election, the new DPJ-led administration began reviews of programs and quasi-governmental bodies with the stated intent of eliminating or cutting back on enough of them to achieve savings of JPY seven trillion. They barely managed to find enough to reach JPY one trillion, and even then the government and bureaucracy ignored or sometimes reversed the panel’s recommendations.

Many of those organizations were created specifically as amakudari featherbeds, soft landings for the retired bureaucrats suspended from yen-padded parachutes who once were responsible for the oversight of the industries that now employ them. Had the DPJ been serious, they could have found much more than JPY seven trillion; an estimated 4,700 of these organizations gobble up JPY 12.7 trillion yen a year.

On the day the reviews began then-Prime Minister Hatoyama said:

“(These reviews) are what all the people have the greatest expectations for, so the entire government must do everything it can to work together for this.”

Wakabayashi Aki worked for one of the quangos associated with the health ministry for 10 years and left to become a freelance journalist after blowing the whistle. Her book 裏切りの民主党, or The Backstabbers of the Democratic Party, is an eyewitness account of the first set of policy reviews. She was asked to help prepare for the reviews based on her decade of experience, but was bounced after the health ministry discovered her involvement. She attended the rest of the sessions as a journalist.

The DPJ-led policy reviews were not the first of their kind in Japan. LDP MP Kono Taro led a team that conducted a similar review a year before that, and they’ve often been used successfully by sub-national governments to reduce government spending. Ms. Wakabayashi notes, however, that the key to the success of the local government reviews has been the active involvement of the chief executive officer of government in every step of the process. In contrast, she reports that Hatoyama Yukio’s direct involvement with the 2009 review totaled 20 minutes. He came to the hall and listened to the questioning of officials from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

Then again, he was a busy man with a full schedule. In her book, Ms. Wakabayashi provides details of his schedule during the first policy review.

Day Two: Mr. Hatoyama attended a party celebrating the Emperor’s 20th year on throne, and then went with his wife and three show business personalities, including actress Mori Mitsuko, to see a song and dance performance.

Day Three: After attending the Emperor’s tea party, he met with President Barack Obama for a summit, albeit showing up five minutes late. He and Mr. Obama held a joint press conference and later attended a banquet given in the American president’s honor. Mr. Hatoyama left the banquet and his guest early, however, to take a night flight to Singapore.

Day Four: The reason for the night flight was to ensure his attendance at the tape-cutting ceremony for the new Japan Creative Center in Singapore the next morning. He was there to attend the APEC conference that began later that day, but that necessitated neither the late flight nor his presence at the ceremony.

The day after his return, he attended a party celebrating the 70th anniversary of JASRAC (Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers, and Publishers) with about 1,000 other people in show business. He spent three hours at dinner with his wife, a fashion designer, and a pianist, among others.

The next day, he met with Japan’s baseball commissioner, the head of the college baseball federation, and others involved with the sport for one hour. He also spent an hour at a conference on government reform.

The day after that, he welcomed a popular singer to his official residence and later attended a concert by the Self-Defense Forces band and orchestra. (They present concerts nationwide, which are a popular attraction. I went once, and the house was sold out.)

Two days later, he visited the US embassy to watch an American football game with the ambassador. Later that day, he threw out the first pitch at the annual exhibition baseball game between pro and college players. That night, he went out to dinner in the Ginza with his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Kan Naoto.

Meanwhile, as Ms. Kobayashi reports, the people doing the real work for the policy reviews were on the job for a month straight with no days off. After returning home at night, they continued their research on the Internet.

In addition to his 20-minute drive-through, Mr. Hatoyama’s involvement with the policy reviews included his decision to reverse the panel’s recommendation to end the project to build the world’s fastest supercomputer. He gave the project his support after being lobbied by members of Japan’s scientific establishment, including Nobel laureate Tonegawa Susumu.


Ms. Wakabayashi also described her visit accompanying the review team to JICA headquarters.

The organization’s headquarters occupies six floors of a new building in Tokyo — the first floor and the top five. Roughly 1,000 of the agency’s 1,600 employees are assigned there. The rent costs the government JPY 2.8 billion a year. The first floor has an exhibition hall to give visitors an idea of the agency’s activities. One exhibit on display is a 10-kilogram jug of water that represents the work required of children in developing countries, who must fetch that amount for their families’ daily use. There were no visitors in the exhibition hall when Ms. Wakabayashi was there. The hall requires JPY 130 million in annual operating fees.

She ate lunch at the restaurant on the JICA site. The menu prices were about half those of a privately operated establishment, and that doesn’t count the sushi prepared by a chef at each individual table.

The meeting between the Diet members of the policy review panel and JICA executives took place in a room that Ms. Wakabayashi described as resembling a luxury hotel suite. She was not able to show readers the interior of the room because JICA forbid photographs.

The director of JICA at the time was Ogata Sadako, the former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from 1991 to 2000. She was appointed JICA head in 2003, when she was 75. Ms. Ogata comes from a family of diplomats, is the great-granddaughter of former Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi, and is a personal friend of the Empress of Japan. Her salary was JPY 22 million a year.

Bureaucrats of all sorts reap the benefits of amakudari.

JICA has an annual budget of JPY 1.1 trillion, of which JPY 160 billion went to ODA in 2008. The largest bilateral aid organization in the world, they distributed funds to 151 countries that year, including China, India, and Brazil. They have two offices in Tokyo, and 10 in other cities stretching from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. When asked about the necessity for the branch offices, it was explained that visiting officials from other countries could benefit from local expertise. For example, the office in Hyogo could give advice on earthquake recovery based on their experience in 1994.

The average annual income of JICA employees is JPY 8.3 million, or slightly less than double the average income of a private-sector employee. They can receive up to an additional JPY 13.2 million a year when posted overseas, an amount that includes living allowances and allowances for spouses and children. They are also given a special exemption from Japanese income tax. Few, says Ms. Wakabayashi, have special training.

This exchange took place with Ms. Ogata during the visit:

Q: Why are JICA salaries 30% higher than those of other civil servants?
A: We reward the employees who contribute to international cooperation in their salaries.

Ogata Sadako on the first day of her new job

Ms. Wakabayashi spoke to a department head recently returned from a posting to Vietnam. He told her that he sat in an air-conditioned office all day while the actual work was done by outsourced consultants and local staff.

JICA is financed entirely by the Japanese government and bonds the organization issues themselves. The government did cut direct contributions in FY 2010, but a look at the agency’s financial statements on the web shows that the cut was offset by funds received from government-guaranteed bonds, which were issued for the first time that year. They also increased the amount of their own bond floats.

Now 84, Ms. Ogata left her JICA post in March and was named this month as an “advisor on diplomatic policy” to Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro. Said Mr. Gemba, according to the Kyodo report:

“She has contributed to heighten Japan’s presence in the international community. I would like her to continue to instruct us on issues such as those related to Afghanistan and security.”

The behavior of the political and governmental elites, and what they have wrought, speaks for itself.

Ms. Wakabayashi tells the story of leaving a meeting briefly to visit the bathroom during a visit to a different government site with the review team. She was accompanied to the restroom door by a government employee and warned not to go anywhere else in the building.

Some people get upset at the criticism of the bureaucracy, however. One of them is Kobe College Prof. Ishikawa Yasuhiro, who offered his opinion to Akahata, the daily newspaper published by the Japanese Communist Party:

“Civil servant bashing is the bashing of civil service that supports the lives of the people. It might be said that it is an attack on the people by the financial establishment and the government. They bring conflict into the midst of the people and drive a wedge between the people and the workers. The financial establishment then proceeds to use that opening for creating the type of country they seek.”

By civil service supporting the lives of the people, I suppose he means this project as described by Ban Ki-moon.

Drunken sailor watch

At a conference on the 19th, the Japanese government agreed to increase the amount it would pay to move American troops from Okinawa and station them on the American territory of Guam from $US 2.8 billion to $US 3.1 billion. One reason cited was the rate of inflation in the United States.

Here’s more from Bloomberg:

“Japan pledged 600 billion yen ($7.4 billion) in development aid to support infrastructure projects in five Southeast Asian nations that share the Mekong River.

“Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who met with the leaders of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar today in Tokyo, expressed appreciation for their self-help efforts, particularly Thailand’s contributions to the development of the Mekong region through bilateral and regional frameworks, according to an official statement issued after the summit.”

And from Reuters:

“Japan has agreed to forgive Myanmar 303.5 billion yen ($3.72 billion) in debt and overdue charges, and resume development loans to the Southeast Asian country, the two nations said on Saturday, in a move to help foster the nascent democracy’s economic development.

“They have decided to cooperate in drawing up a blueprint for the Thilawa Special Economic Zone in Myanmar, potentially giving Japanese firms a leg-up over rivals in winning infrastructure projects for the area.”

Meanwhile, according to an article in the issue of the Shukan Post quoted at the top of this piece, few infrastructure restoration projects have gotten underway in the three Tohoku prefectures most affected by last March’s disaster.

It’s a shame these people aren’t musicians. If they were, we could ask them to play Far Far Away.

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One Response to “More on Hatoyama the hapless, part three”

  1. toadold said

    I read an online paper that stated the US military needs to draw back from Guam and Okinawa and reach agreements with the Philippines for an enforced presence there. Of course given the current level of reduction of the US Defense budget with the increase to tensions world wide I wonder just how much “beef” we could place there. Meanwhile the various US versions of amakudari draw more and more attention….on the Internet anyway. My fear is that things are going to go pear shaped world wide before reforms get enacted.

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