Thursday, February 5, 2009

"Civil service reform

"Reforming the nation's civil service system has two purposes.

"One is to give greater mobility to the bureaucracy by banishing the territorial mentality of bureaucrats who are said to think for their ministries or agencies rather than for the nation.

"Another is to end the amakudari system that breeds corruption, including government-led bid-rigging and other forms of government-industry collusion.

"The Taro Aso administration on Tuesday finalized its reform timetable, which shows what reforms are to be implemented and how. The schedule covers the period from 2009 through 2012.

"The centerpiece of the proposed reforms is the creation of a new "Cabinet personnel and administrative management bureau," which would integrate the management of senior personnel of all ministries and agencies. Another highlight is a review of the current early retirement system.

"The government initially intended to create this new Cabinet bureau during fiscal 2009, but postponed it until after April 2010 because preparations were thrown off schedule by the abrupt resignation of former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda last autumn.

"However, with a Lower House election due before too long, the Aso administration needed to at least avoid being blamed for falling back on reform. That was why the timetable was announced Tuesday.

"But Masahito Tani, president of the National Personnel Authority, is vehemently opposed to the establishment of the new Cabinet bureau.

"Tani pointed out that transferring some of the NPA's functions to the new bureau, such as deciding the salary rankings of civil servants, could violate the Constitution.

"He argues that the government has entrusted the NPA, an independent entity, with these and other powers as basic labor rights of such government employees are restricted. Akira Amari, state minister for administrative reform, disagreed. "The functions to be transferred have nothing to do with civil servants' basic labor rights," he countered.

"Some members of the ruling coalition criticized Tani for "just trying to defend the NPA's turf."

"According to the timetable, a government study panel this year will decide how far to ease the restrictions on basic labor rights. This is a matter that concerns civil servants' basic rights. We believe any discussion of the transfer of the NPA's functions to the new Cabinet bureau should await the government panel's ruling.

"As for amakudari, the timetable shows that laws will be revised enabling civil servants to work until their mandatory retirement age. Various rules for delayed mandatory retirement and re-employment will be prepared in stages by fiscal 2012.

"To eliminate amakudari, the personnel system must be radically overhauled. There is no point in simply talking about the matter or making promises if the system of helping bureaucrats land cushy post-retirement jobs remains effectively unchanged. On the other hand, care must be taken to keep civil service an attractive profession so that talented individuals will still want to work for the government.

"Aso on Tuesday in the Diet addressed the issue of government ministries and agencies mediating amakudari and watari (post-retirement job hopping) for their retired officials. "I would like to create a government ordinance to end such mediations during this year," Aso said.

"This was a surprise. Until quite recently, Aso was adamant about not scrapping an existing government ordinance that permits such mediations in exceptional cases.

"Aso should, of course, fix what is not right. However, the announcement of the timetable at this time, coupled with his unexpected policy about-face, somehow smacks of a popularity-seeking stunt at the expense of civil servants.

"Regardless of which political party holds power, the purpose of any civil service system reform should be to create an efficient bureaucracy that carries out the party's will. The reform needs to be bold, but nothing can be gained by proceeding in haste and demoralizing the bureaucracy itself.

"Aso should include opposition parties in the process and design a good, solid plan."

By Asahi Shimbun (Editorial, 2/5/2009), Link to article (last visited 2/5/2009)

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