Japan from the inside out

Hara Eiji interview

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 1, 2012

ONE of the most important issues for people who read and think in Japan — and the most important for some of them — is the issue of systemic reform of the government at both the national and local level. That is one of the objectives of reformers such as Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, and it is one reason he has received so much support from the public.

Hara Eiji

One of Mr. Hashimoto’s special advisors in Osaka is Hara Eiji, who is responsible for the areas of public employee regulations and education laws. A Univerity of Tokyo graduate, he joined the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Economy, Trade, and Industry) in 1989. Mr. Hara became an aide to Watanabe Yoshimi when the latter was the Minister for Reform in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets before he left the LDP to form Your Party. Now the president of his own consulting company, Mr. Hara published a book on his experiences and bureaucratic reform titled Bureaucracy Rhetoric.

He was recently interviewed by the Kansai edition of the Sankei Shimbun. Here it is in English.

– What do you think of the Osaka Metro District Concept?

I can’t evaluate the concept itself. The decision has been reached through an election to realize the metro district concept, but it won’t move forward unless a decision is made in the Diet, which includes MPs from Hokkaido and Okinawa, for example, who don’t have any connection with Osaka. That’s strange.

– What are the advantages of regional devolution considering the problems of centralized authority?

The central government ministries and agencies say that if affairs are entrusted to the regions, they’ll make a mess of it. To a certain extent, they’re correct. But the problem still remains that those regions with both ability and incentive are being hindered.

Not everything will be rosy with regional devolution. Some regions probably will make a mess of it. If they grow where they can grow, other sectors will hold them back.

– What about Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka?

I think they have ability, but when you talk to the prefecture and municipal employees about policies, they often say something won’t be possible because of the relationship with the national government’s ministries and agencies. I have to wonder if they think the national government is their work supervisor.

To begin with, employees have to do their jobs for the citizens, but many local governments work by following the “guidance” of the national government. Local government employees also have ability, but what they seem to lack is awareness.

– A basic law for employees has been passed (in Osaka). Will the awareness of civil servants change?

That law wasn’t passed to give a hard time to employees with poor performance. Under the previous system, employee evaluations would be the same whether they worked hard or not. If salary increases are based on seniority, the people who want to work for the citizens would wither on the vine. We must have a system that enables the people who had high ideals when they were hired to maintain those ideals.

– Was there a lot of opposition from the employees about the law?

Public employees have the image of being the forces of opposition, but they too understand in their hearts that things must change. Nevertheless, their evaluations are tied to their adherence to precedent. Their awareness won’t change unless we create a mechanism that allows their work for the citizens to be the basis of their evaluations.

It might take time for this intent to fully penetrate, but it will be meaningful if there is an effect after a year. It is important to implement better policies by changing the organization. The premise of all reform is a public sector organization that performs its job for the citizens.

The reason that no progress is being made at the national level, even though people are shouting about the need for different reforms, is that there was a flight from the castle keep of reform, which was systemic reform of the civil service. Reforms that make all public servants enemies will be very troublesome, and there is no way the particulars of reform will advance with the public servants protecting vested interests.

Different regions have different problems, but they have somewhat in common a structural problem. The relationship between the national government and the regions is a problem that arose because people had become bound to a discipline that dates from before the war. Osaka was not all that bad.

We’re already at the point at which the decision-making framework for central government offices is not functioning well. We must change that into a framework which allows the regions to step up to the challenge of doing what they’re capable of doing.

Reader Toadold sends in the following video with the comment, “If you let people who are in service have a bit more freedom on their jobs you could get a lot more performance.”

He’s right!

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