Japan government restructured to deal with reforms

TOKYO, Reuters

Japan unveiled a new government structure on Saturday, slashing the number of ministries and agencies by nearly a half in a bid to boost efficiency and strengthen political control over policy-making.

Japan has been criticized for relying too heavily on consensus in major decisions, which traditionally have been made by bureaucrats, and not giving enough power to prime ministers to make difficult choices.

Under the new line-up, the prime minister’s authority in making policy proposals will be strengthened, his Cabinet Office reinforced and “state ministers” to assist Cabinet ministers in policy formation will be created.

“Japan’s social and economic systems, which have supported the nation’s development in the 20th century, are facing difficulties in dealing appropriately with changes in domestic and international situations,” Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said in a statement.

“We are facing the need to carry out drastic reforms.”

Japan is also trying to do away with bureaucratic sectionalism in which rival ministries fight over budget and policy turf and which often results in increased spending and delay in decisions.

“We are trying to remove this sectionalism barrier,” chief Cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a regular news conference.

“I think it is a matter of how much we can do for the country by working closely with our partners (ministries and agencies).”

The new structure will slash the number of government agencies and ministries to 13 from 23 through the merger of several agencies with overlapping portfolios into new mega-ministries.

The number of direct government employees will also be cut by 25 percent over ten years.

Some analysts say the reorganization will both cut costs by reducing inter-agency strife and speed up decisions on vital national policies.

But others say giant ministries will be difficult to control and inter-ministry battles will just become intra-ministry ones.

The restructured government also signals an end to the once-mighty Finance Ministry, which has lost significant power and authority in the move.

A new Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy headed by the prime minister takes over the task of drafting the outline of the national budget, previously one of the ministry’s roles.