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Japan: Civil Servant System Reform Must Not Pander to the Public
Source: the-japan-news.com
Source Date: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Focus: E-Education
Country: Japan
Created: Jun 25, 2013

Careful discussions are necessary on a review of the civil servant system--one of the foundations of the nation--so problems will not be created in the future.

The government will draw up, as early as this month, an overarching picture of the national civil servant system reform. It plans to submit related bills to the Diet after next month’s House of Councillors election. The ruling parties apparently want to emphasize their positive stance toward the reform ahead of the election campaign, but it cannot be denied that their move is somewhat abrupt.

The government faces several major challenges such as reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake, lifting the economy out of deflation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations. We do not think high priority should be given to civil servant system reform.

The Democratic Party of Japan administration’s misguided “lawmaker-led politics” has been overturned, and bureaucrats have reportedly regained a zeal for their work. The government should first explain the point and benefits of the reform, such as what problems bedevil the existing system and why the reform is necessary.

 

Back to the future

A bill on this reform was submitted to the Diet by the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Taro Aso in 2009 but was scrapped. Tomomi Inada, state minister in charge of civil service reform, said the government will examine the bill and resubmit it to the Diet.

The main pillar of the bill was the establishment of a new cabinet personnel affairs bureau that will integrate the personnel affairs of senior officials of the Cabinet Office and ministries. The new bureau will be under the Cabinet Secretariat.

The Cabinet Secretariat would have been able to control senior officials from the Cabinet Office and ministries, and the prime minister or chief cabinet secretary could take the political initiative in appointing or dismissing them.

The bill was aimed at rectifying a harmful effect of bureaucratic sectionalism that seemingly placed importance on ministries’ interests above the national interests.

However, there are about 600 senior official positions, including vice ministers and bureau chiefs. If candidates for those posts and applicants for open recruitment are included, the personnel affairs process becomes enormous. Is it possible to fairly and accurately gauge the performance and skills of so many individuals? There is also concern that politicians could make arbitrary judgments in personnel affairs.

The envisaged bureau will have jurisdiction over the management of the number of officials in different classes currently classified based on job complexity, responsibility and other factors by the National Personnel Authority. Civil servant salaries are based on this classification. The bureau will manage the structure and number of officials at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. We think consolidating the disjointed administration of personnel affairs will make administrative organizations more efficient.

 

Opposition joining fray

However, the National Personnel Authority in 2009 opposed control of the class-based quota being handed to the Cabinet Secretariat, which manages civil servants.

Every year, the personnel authority recommends a revision in national civil servants’ salaries to compensate for the fact that their basic labor rights are restricted. The authority has a point in insisting that its function to compensate for this situation will be reduced if it cannot manage the class-based quota, which is a main factor in determining civil servants’ working conditions.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs to deal with this matter after closely examining past discussions.

Opposition parties also are preparing a plan to reform the civil servant system before the upper house election. This is probably because they believe “civil servant bashing” will go down well with the public. Your Party said it will abolish the guaranteed status of national civil servants by granting them basic labor rights, which would make layoffs possible.

It would be absurd if the reform lowers civil servants’ morale and accelerates the tendency among young people to shy away from becoming public workers. The reform must not pander to the public.

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